Carroll published Through the Looking-Glass in 1871. Near the beginning, Alice discovers and reads "Jabberwocky". The word "vorpal" appears twice in the poem, which describes a young boy's quest to slay a monster called the Jabberwock:
He took his vorpal sword in hand:
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.
As with much of the rest of the poem's vocabulary, the reader is left to guess at the meaning of "vorpal" from the context. It is commonly assumed to mean "deadly" or "sharp", but could also be referring to the material of which the sword is composed. Some readers have imagined other properties the word could describe. Alexander L. Taylor points out in his Carroll biography The White Knight that "vorpal" can be formed by taking letters alternately from "verbal" and "gospel".
Carroll himself once wrote, "I am afraid I can't explain 'vorpal blade' for you—nor yet 'tulgey wood.'"
In the original Bard's Tale video game, a character of the Magician class could cast a level 1 spell called "Vorpal Plating", allowing the weapon (or hands) of a party member to do additional damage.
Several popular mods for the popular PC game Minecraft include a Vorpal enchantment which can be placed on swords and gives a chance for any enemy or player killed by said sword to drop a displayable head item.