Nonsense is a communication, via speech, writing, or any other symbolic system, that lacks any coherent meaning. Sometimes in ordinary usage, nonsense is synonymous with absurdity or the ridiculous. Many poets, novelists and songwriters have used nonsense in their works, often creating entire works using it for reasons ranging from pure comic amusement or satire, to illustrating a point about language or reasoning. In the philosophy of language and philosophy of science, nonsense is distinguished from sense or meaningfulness, and attempts have been made to come up with a coherent and consistent method of distinguishing sense from nonsense. It is also an important field of study in cryptography regarding separating a signal from noise.


A Book of Nonsense (c. 1875 James Miller edition) by Edward Lear

The phrase "Colorless green ideas sleep furiously" was coined by Noam Chomsky as an example of nonsense. However, this can easily be confused with poetic symbolism. The individual words make sense and are arranged according to proper grammatical rules, yet the result is nonsense. The inspiration for this attempt at creating verbal nonsense came from the idea of contradiction and seemingly irrelevant and/or incompatible characteristics, which conspire to make the phrase meaningless, but are open to interpretation. The phrase "the square root of Tuesday" (not a similar example; the lemondrop sunshine is more comparable)[vague] operates on the latter principle. This principle is behind the inscrutability of the kōan "What is the sound of one hand clapping?", where one hand would presumably be insufficient for clapping without the intervention of another.

James Joyce’s final novel Finnegans Wake also uses nonsense: full of portmanteau and strong words, it appears to be pregnant with multiple layers of meaning, but in many passages it is difficult to say whether any one human’s interpretation of a text could be the intended or unintended one.


Jabberwocky, a poem (of nonsense verse) found in Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There by Lewis Carroll (1871), is a nonsense poem written in the English language. The word jabberwocky is also occasionally used as a synonym of nonsense.[1]

Nonsense verse is the verse form of literary nonsense, a genre that can manifest in many other ways. Its best-known exponent is Edward Lear, author of The Owl and the Pussycat and hundreds of limericks.

Nonsense verse is part of a long line of tradition predating Lear: the nursery rhyme Hey Diddle Diddle could also be termed a nonsense verse. There are also some works which appear to be nonsense verse, but actually are not, such as the popular 1940s song Mairzy Doats.

Lewis Carroll, seeking a nonsense riddle, once posed the question How is a raven like a writing desk?. Someone answered him, Because Poe wrote on both. However, there are other possible answers (e.g. both have inky quills).

Lines of nonsense frequently figure in the refrains of folksongs, where nonsense riddles and knock-knock jokes are often encountered.


The first verse of Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll;

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

The first four lines of On the Ning Nang Nong by Spike Milligan;[2]

On the Ning Nang Nong
Where the cows go Bong!
and the monkeys all say BOO!
There's a Nong Nang Ning

The first verse of Spirk Troll-Derisive by James Whitcomb Riley;[3]

The Crankadox leaned o'er the edge of the moon,
And wistfully gazed on the sea
Where the Gryxabodill madly whistled a tune
To the air of "Ti-fol-de-ding-dee."

The first four lines of The Mayor of Scuttleton by Mary Mapes Dodge;[3]

The Mayor of Scuttleton burned his nose
Trying to warm his copper toes;
He lost his money and spoiled his will
By signing his name with an icicle quill;

Oh Freddled Gruntbuggly by Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz; a creation of Douglas Adams

Oh freddled gruntbuggly,
Thy micturations are to me
As plurdled gabbleblotchits on a lurgid bee.
Groop I implore thee, my foonting turlingdromes,
And hooptiously drangle me with crinkly bindlewurdles,
Or I will rend thee in the gobberwarts
With my blurglecruncheon, see if I don't!

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