How to Understand the 'Nadsat' Argot In "A Clockwork Orange"

A Clockwork Orange, written by Anthony Burgess, is a compelling novel about morality and free will. Unfortunately, it can be a difficult read, especially the first few chapters, as much of the book is narrated in the fictional argot known as Nadsat (the "teenage" language). This article aims to help you better comprehend this “subliminal penetration,“ which will consequently allow you to enjoy the book much more.


  1. 1
    Understand what Nadsat is. Nadsat is a fictional language mainly derived from Russian words, but with an Anglicized twist. For example, the Russian word “golova” (which translates into something along the lines of “head”) is written as “gulliver” in the book. While the words are spelled differently than their Russian counterparts, many words (such as "gulliver") still retain the original Russian meaning. There are words of other origins as well, such as French, German, and even some that Burgess invented.
  2. 2
    Carefully analyze each sentence. Don’t just read it. . . comprehend it! Dissect the meaning and emotion behind the Nadsat lingo. Some of the more common words like “viddy,” “droog,” and “tolchock” will be easy to grasp, while some of the less common ones like “yeckat,” “zoobies,” and “vareet” will require a bit more contextual analysis. Use context clues to help you extrapolate your own definition.
    • Here's an excerpt from Part 1, Chapter 1: "There was a doddery starry schoolmaster type veck, glasses on and his rot open to the cold nochy air."
    • From this sentence, we'd be able to immediately deduce a few things: we know that it mentions an old school professor ("schoolmaster" should give that away), he has glasses on, and some part of his body is open to the cold air (not many parts of the body can open or close, so it'd be either the eyes or the mouth (and for the sake of brevity, it's the mouth)).
    • Here's what that same sentence would look like in normal English: "There was a strange old school professor, glasses on and his mouth open to the cold night air."
  3. 3
    Compile your own glossary of Nadsat-to-Enligh translations. Whenever you have an indication of what a word may mean, write your interpretation on a piece of paper for future reference. Go back after you’ve finished the chapter and see if still makes sense.
  4. 4
    Mentally replace the Nadsat words with English. Once you’ve finished the book and have accumulated a sizeable glossary of the most commonly used Nadsat words (or better yet, memorized them), reread the book and mentally replace the Nadsat argot with real tangible English words. Once you can read the book without thinking what the words mean, you've mastered the language!


  • Read, reread, and then reread again if necessary.
  • The word usage is consistent throughout the book, so the meanings of many commonly used words should become evident to you the more you read.
  • If you’re having a difficult time deciphering a few words (or many words), check out the Nadsat glossary website listed under “Sources and Citations.”
  • It helps to know some Russian words before reading the book.
  • Although it might seem disheartening to essentially learn another language, just pay close attention to the context clues and pretty soon you'll come to appreciate its demented wording.
  • Remember that words ending in “-ing,” “-ly,“ or “-ed” or similar suffixes are verbs, adverbs (words describing verbs), or adjectives (words describing a noun). You can safely rule out a noun for any word ending in any of those suffixes.

Things You'll Need

  • A copy of Anthony Burgess's book A Clockwork Orange.
  • A pen/pencil and paper.
  • A lot of free time.
  • Patience.
  • Persistence.

Sources and Citations

Article Info

Categories: Fictional Languages