This article explores the meaning of “nonsense” as it is typically employed in discussions of nonsense literature. Definitions of nonsense vary widely and often pay little attention to cultural context or the phenomenology of reading. After surveying the problems with these definitions, the article then redefines nonsense experientially, that is, as the experience, in time, of rewarding sense-juggling inspired by a semantically ambiguous text that resists conclusive interpretation. This new definition is explored and defended from a comparative perspective through an analysis of the difficulties inherent in the process of translating Lewis Carroll's “Jabberwocky” from English into Chinese, using Chinese linguist Zhao Yuanren's (趙元任) early twentieth-century translation as a case study.

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