Finally, it has been established. What is a Snark? What is a Boojum?
It’s obvious what the Snark is. The Snark is a monster. Now, monster is an interesting word. It derives from the Latin, monstrum, which means (I pluck Lewis and Short from my shelf) ‘a divine omen, indicating misfortune, an evil omen, portent’. This word is in turn from moneo: ‘to teach, instruct, tell, inform, point out; to announce, predict, foretell’. Originally a calf (say) born with two heads would be a monster in the sense of being ominous: through it the gods would be trying to tell us something. Though the word now has the connotation of a large and terrifying fantastical beast, the earlier meaning still haunts it. Godzilla, say, is a monster in the contemporary vulgar sense, but also in the sense that he is trying to tell us something (in his case, something about the evils of nuclear testing). What Carroll’s monster teaches us concerns the process of enquiry itself: what it means is meaning itself ... unless, of course, it is a boojum in which case the monster means the devouring of meaning. What devours? What is it that chews endlessly, endlessly? A boojum is a cow (jum short for jumentum, the Latin for draught-cattle; and bo, from bos, ‘ox, bull, cow’). Imagine how disappointed you’d be if you went to all that trouble to find a Snark only for it to turn out to be—a cow. Do you think you’d be disappointed enough to softly and suddenly vanish away?
A calf with two heads indeed.