JABBERWOCKY and Other Tales from the Federal Government Crypt

John Tenniel's Illustration to the poem JabberwockyJABBERWOCKY and Other Tales from the Federal Government Crypt

by Quo Vadis

Has the Jabberwocky Virus Infected the Broadcasting Board of Governors?


There’s an urban legend that people who get into government employment become highly susceptible to the insidious Jabberwocky virus.  It’s a baffling linguistic type of affliction and attacks the cerebral cortex, especially the frontal lobe and affects a person’s ability to write and speak clearly often showing up while putting together reports, summarizing task force goals, or making mission statements.   It causes the writer to suddenly string together all sorts of words, invented and real, which appear to make sense and even profound when read privately or confined within certain sectors of the building.  However, when thrust upon an audience unfamiliar with accepted bureaucratic jargon, including those who are not in upper management ranks or sit in the halls of Congress, it sadly becomes gibberish.

Unfortunately, the Cohen Building which houses the International Broadcasting Bureau and the Broadcasting Board of Governors may have succumbed to the Jabberwocky virus.  There were earlier symptoms:  all kinds of reports containing exotic words like “brand name properties”, “baseline metrics”, “value-added content” “mission imperatives”, “integrated strategy”, “platform agnostic”, “rebranding”, “market forces” which would be inserted and uttered at high-level meetings, forums, and conferences, meant to dazzle and bewitch.  And now it seems that the virus has spread to replies to congressional inquiries infecting sentence construction, slithering into syntax and affecting clarity.

How did the Jabberwocky virus get its name? Jabberwocky is a whimsical verse poem from a novel written by Lewis Carroll in 1872: Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There, a sequel to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alice finds a book containing a strange unintelligible language written in something called mirror-writing.  Holding up a mirror to one of the poems, Alice suddenly sees the Jabberwocky verse.

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

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!”

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought—
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! and through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
He chortled in his joy.

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



Once Alice finished reading the Jabberwocky verses, she exclaimed:

‘It seems very pretty, but it’s rather hard to understand!’ (You see she didn’t like to confess, even to herself, that she couldn’t make it out at all.) ‘ Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas—only I don’t exactly know what they are! However, somebody killed something: that’s clear, at any rate.”

But not to fear.  There is a remedy because as we all know, in the Tim Burton film, young Alice, much to the relief of those in Wonderland, vanquishes the Jabberwock.  And the Red Queen’s threats of “Off With Their Heads” no longer had any meaning at all.