Humpty Dumpty

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Humpty Dumpty is the subject of a well-known nursery rhyme:

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the King's horses, and all the King's men
Couldn't put Humpty together again.

The poem may originally have been a riddle, with the listener having to guess that Humpty Dumpty is an egg, but there are many other theories about its origins and its meaning.[1]

Humpty Dumpty is also well known as a character in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, where he explains the meaning of some of the invented words in the poem Jabberwocky. He also confuses Alice by using words with non-standard meanings, explaining “When I use a word, ... it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”[2]:

“I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory,’ ” Alice said.
Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t—till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!’
“But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument’,” Alice objected.
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master that’s all.”
Alice was too much puzzled to say anything, so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again. “They’ve a temper, some of them—particularly verbs, they’re the proudest—adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs—however, I can manage the whole lot! Impenetrability! That’s what I say!”

References

  1. The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes, edited by Iona and Peter Opie. Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1951.
  2. Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There: full text at Project Gutenberg.
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