“The colours of the real world only seem really real when you viddy them on the screen”: The adaptation of Nadsat in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange

Benet Vincent, Jim Clarke

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


A Clockwork Orange is notable in both its original textual and adapted cinematic forms for its linguistic invention. Both versions prominently feature ‘Nadsat’, an invented anti-language through which the narrator and protagonist Alex conveys his story and communicates with others. As our previous research has shown, Nadsat is composed of different categories which draw on different word-formation principles. The predominantly Russian-derived core Nadsat category, which makes up most of Nadsat, includes words like droog (“friend”), which are likely to be unfamiliar to the reader / viewer. In contrast, other aspects of Nadsat, such as archaisms and compound words, while still deviating from standard English, do not pose problems of comprehension.
As adaptation theorists and practitioners of cinema have noted, the silver screen tells stories very differently from the printed page. Not only does the visual medium add (and in some ways subtract) planes of meaning, but the serial form of cinema and its truncated timeframe of engagement with its audience demand that communication challenges created by Nadsat be dealt with very differently.
In this chapter, we bring corpus techniques to bear to investigate the ways that Kubrick approached the challenge of bringing Nadsat to the screen. In doing so, we build on our work on the identification and categorisation of Nadsat in the novel to identify the changes Kubrick made between the original text and the screenplay in terms of the items and main categories. We show that, while Nadsat remains a prominent aspect of the film, the proportion of unfamiliar core Nadsat items is greatly reduced in an attempt to ensure that the language of the film retains its distinctive flavour without overburdening the audience with unfamiliar items.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAnthony Burgess, Stanley Kubrick and A Clockwork Orange
EditorsMatt Melia, Georgina Orgill
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages21
ISBN (Electronic)9783031055997
ISBN (Print)9783031055980
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 1 Jan 2023

Publication series

NamePalgrave Studies in Adaptation and Visual Culture


  • Nadsat
  • Stanley Kubrick
  • A Clockwork Orange
  • Linguistics
  • Language
  • Adaptation
  • Communication

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts


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