I recently came across the famous Soviet-era translation by Dina Orlovskaya of Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll, which is a part of a sequel to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and that translation starts with the following lines:

Варкалось. Хливкие шорьки

Пырялись по наве,

И хрюкотали зелюки,

Как мюмзики в мове.

It is a kind of impressionist poetry, but I can't get rid of the feeling that the above translation makes a strong implication that the verse is about using drugs. For instance, пыряться, as Wiktionary says, means to inject drugs to oneself. По наве sounds similar to по вене (to a vein). Шорьки sounds similar to торчки (drug addicts). Хрюкотали seems to be a mixture of хрюкали and хохотали, natural reactions to drugs. Зелюки appears to be derived from зелье, which can mean a drug. And the whole verse looks as if it were written under the influence of drugs.

I am curious as to whether I am right in my feeling or whether my imagination is too wild, and I am perplexed as to how such apparently obvious implications of using drugs could pass Soviet censorship and be printed for kids.

My question: How do native Russian speakers perceive this famous Soviet-era translation of Lewis Carroll's Jabberwocky to their language?

  • 7
    let's use it as a chanсe to learn Russian expression "пальцем в небо" :P
    – shabunc
    Commented Jan 21, 2020 at 12:30
  • 1
    Also, хрюкотали can be understood as "laughed".
    – Anixx
    Commented Feb 1, 2020 at 17:50
  • Doesn't the original Alice in Wonderland look as if it was written under the influence of drugs? Commented Feb 11, 2020 at 2:19

3 Answers 3


I would assume that "drugonauts" would definitely see those allusion there, but they would see allusions almost in any text anyway.

could pass Soviet censorship

The said translation has started in 1966 - https://www.vekperevoda.com/1900/dorlovskaja.htm

Back then those words almost definitely did not have those allusions. I wonder if all of them even existed in that specific sense back then, even among the addicts themselves. While "stream something down the vein" expression should probably exist at least since hippie times (which probably itself only came in 1970-s to USSR) - inside the hippie subculture, not mainstream - i am very reserved about other words.

While it is possible that artists here and there sneaked "double meaning" kind of jokes in lyrics and even in architecture (statues, etc), it is equally possible that we are finding things only because we want to, "свинья грязи найдёт".

The much more obvious example would be "Голубой щенок" cartoon: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SZIHQDRByNw with lyrics that as of today definitely alludes to "No one wants to relate to me because i am gay".

I am not sure whether the same allusion worked on adults in then USSR, but i think that kids definitely saw "light blue" as just a colour with no extra meanings associated.

Which moves us back to the censorship issue. If children do not see the real or alleged reference - should there something be done about it at all? Why? The censorship objective goal is to prevent message, and subjective - as for any worker - is to avoid punishment by superiors. Cancelling the alleged hint to the audience that would not read it anyway lacks both goals.

One more example can be 1979 "Летучий Корабль" cartoon: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2CettOH7qSM

My parents told me that was a clear mocking of Soviet самодеятельность "mass culture" - state vetted attempts to organize people's creativity, so they would entertain each other in non-political ways, instead of getting bored or getting interested in politics, especially in small towns which the building alluded to, хрущовка-style as they saw it. Well, i did not see a thing there in it but a funny non-sense.

Now social criticism would probably be feared by Soviet censorship much more than marginal crime of drugs abuse, so if something should had been banned - it would be such a cartoon first, and Carrol far later.

Now to your specific list, as i personally feel about it:

  • пыряться, as Wiktionary says, means to inject drugs to oneself.

I would say пырять or better пырнуть would refer to make a rough cut with a knife, mostly during some backstabbing or drunk bloody fight. From this point, making badly-aimed holes in one's vein with trembling hands can be seen as пыряться. But i would not see this verb as a go to word talking about drug injections. I would start with ширяться, then упарываться. If anything, пыряться has much more of allusion to the knife crime for me.

  • По наве sounds similar to по вене (to a vein).

Just, no. And especially as we have some huge numbers of those animals in the rhymes. They do not share ONE common vein do they?

  • Шорьки sounds similar to торчки (drug addicts).


  • Хрюкотали seems to be a mixture of хрюкали and хохотали, natural reactions to drugs.

It definitely can be this mixture. But i do think this "natural reaction" is neither what kids of Brezhnev-time USSR would see as "most usually caused by drugs" and nothing else, nor that drugs mostly cause this not any other reaction (there are many drugs with vastly different effects).

And personally i do not feel "хохотали" in this. It more hints at "repetitive bursts" kind of activity in my perception, like in "сверчки стрекотали", "реготали", "хлопотали" even. Short repeatition like dozen sounds, then silence, then another repetition, etc.

  • Зелюки appears to be derived from зелье,

No, especially since the former stresses the last syllable when the latter stresses the first one.

If one takes a quest to hear similarities, then my choice would go for "селюки" (of "село" - south-russian kind of village) - a mildly deragorary term for peasants, kind of "rednecks".

Personally this "revelation" you brought here itself sound like a joke. Take any neutral text and by explicitly obsessive interpretation force it to "denote" some specific and marginal thing, turn it into a an obviously "up to eleven" secret message. There is that kind of jokes and perhaps you just read one.

  • 3
    "drugonauts", so to speak, are able to see allusions even staring at white wall )
    – shabunc
    Commented Jan 21, 2020 at 12:51
  • 1
    @shabunc staring at white wall? you mean Vysotsky? o_O
    – Arioch
    Commented Jan 21, 2020 at 13:20

Absolutely not.

It absolutely does not imply drug usage and this is a classic example of overthinking without prior thorough research.

There is canonical explanation

Dina Orlovskaya, the translator (and in this particular case I'd rather call her co-author) of Lewis Carroll's lyrics based her translation on Lewis Carroll's original explanation of the words he used. Here's this explanation (with some additional context provided):

Позже Кэрролл использовал это четверостишье как пролог к своей балладе «Бармаглот», приведённой в книге «Алиса в Зазеркалье» (сама баллада написана преимущественно «обычными» словами с вкраплением малопонятных слов, в которых, однако, угадываются староанглийские корни, имеет сюжет и понимается без «перевода»). В той же книге он поместил (от лица одного из персонажей, Шалтая-Болтая) пояснение к первой строфе (перевод Д. Г. Орловской):

  • варкалось — восемь часов вечера, когда уже пора варить ужин, но в то же время уже немножечко смеркалось (в другом переводе четыре часа пополудни) - originally "twas bryllyg";
  • хливкий — хлипкий и ловкий - originally "slithy";
  • шорёк — помесь хорька (в оригинале — барсука), ящерицы и штопора - originally "tove";
  • пыряться — весело прыгать, нырять, вертеться - originally "gyre";
  • нава — трава под солнечными часами (простирается немного направо, немного налево и немного назад) - originally "wabe";
  • хрюкотать — хрюкать и хохотать (вариант — летать) (in the original "chortle" - by the was this words as a coined neologism entered the English vocabulary);
  • зелюк — зелёный индюк (в оригинале — зелёная свинья) - originally "rath";
  • мюмзик — птица; перья у неё растрёпаны и торчат во все стороны, как веник - originally "mimsy", but keep in mind that in English article other explanation is given;
  • мова́ — далеко от дома (Шалтай-Болтай признаётся, что сам в этом не уверен).

As you can see from the descriptions, the translator just tried to come up with closest words that sort of make sense and match with the descriptions. So "варкалось" is similar to "смеркалось", "шорёк" sounds pretty much like "хорёк" and so on and so on.

In my personal opinion by the way, the Dina Orlovskaya did tremendously good job here, she managed to convey what English speaker feels when reads this gibberish verses but only for a Russian speaker. For instance, "Twas bryllyg" sounds exactly like it's about some period of the day, and "варкалось" feels exactly the same.

If one is interested to know more on the issue I would recommend the book "О переводе сказок Кэрролла" written by Orlovskaya's co-author, Demurova. One would be surprised how many effort was put by Orlovskaya (who is mentioned a lot in the book) to make translation as authentic as possible. By the way, first time it was published not in USSR but in Bulgaria.

Russian drug-related jargon was likely not developed up to that point

The other thing to consider is that all that slang that we are now associate with drug-consuming (like "сторчаться", "торчок", "ширяться" etc.) was likely developed slightly later - the translation was completed in 1967 while we can hardly talk about drug-consuming as a noticeable cultural and social phenomena in USSR till the seventies. And in seventies we are talking about very marginal and initially quite non-numerous groups like soviet hippies etc. In fact, I would be very surprised if Dina Orlovskaya was aware of any drug-related slang at all.


Do you think that drug use was relevant in the USSR? Absolutely not, nothing more than gangster's battles; This translation is older than drugs on the territory of the USSR, there was practically no drug addiction in the USSR, in the mass, therefore such mental relations were completely irrelevant and could not arise. Rather, they are here-of a secondary nature, that is, the slang of current drug-addicts can be have later origin from this verse:>

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