As someone who writes for a living, I often find myself turning to a dictionary or thesaurus for a little bit of help. And now, whenever I’m searching for a word that’s a bit more…out of the ordinary…I have the perfect place to look.
In June, a Roald Dahl dictionary was published, compiled by lexicographer Dr Susan Rennie and showcasing Dahl’s inventive use of language with words like ‘wondercrump’ (wonderful) and ‘biffsquiggled’ (puzzled) now available in all their scrumdiddlyumptious glory for everyone to enjoy. The official name for the language is ‘Gobblefunk’, and it is made up of over 500 unique words including humplecrimp, crodsquinkled and sogmire – the meanings of which I will leave you to ponder.
Dahl’s distinctive and acrobatic vocabulary is a pleasing concoction of lexical tricks that make word nerds like me giddy with delight; onomatopoeia, infixation, malapropisms, alliteration, and a glut of spectacular spoonerisms – a device where the first letters of two words are mixed up in a way that tickles your bunny phone…I mean, funny bone.
Roald Dahl died in 1990, and yet his unique brand of playful, surreal writing endures in popularity to this day. As a child, I voraciously devoured his novels, working my way through Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The BFG, Matilda, George’s Marvellous Medicine and James and the Giant Peach, among others. Every story was crammed with fanciful descriptions of grotesque characters, elaborate food and drink and mythical creatures like Vermicious Knids, which as a child with an over-active imagination and penchant for the macabre I found irresistible. I remember reading Fantastic Mr Fox at school and secretly rooting for the vulpine protagonist despite his nefarious behaviour. I always was a bit of a morbid child.
Accompanied by Quentin Blake’s unmistakable illustrations – a satisfying mix of sweet and gruesome that worked perfectly with Dahl’s anarchic narratives – stories like The Twits and The Witches perfectly bridge the gap between children’s and adult literature to create something that all generations can enjoy together. And despite Dahl’s first children’s book – The Gremlins – being published over seven decades ago, his stories continue to inspire new interpretations. The multiple-award winning West End musical adaptation of Matilda (with music and lyrics from the equally irreverent Tim Minchin), plus this summer’s box office blockbuster version of The BFG, prove that imagination, fun and a clever wit never go out of style, no matter what age you are.
If the Oxford English Dictionary is looking for a contender for its annual ‘word of the year’ – an honour which was recently besmirched by the addition of an emoji, as I bemoaned in a previous post – I, for one, would be delighted to see one of Dahl’s swashboggling creations officially added to the English language. I shall wait with bated breath.
Now, all this writing as made me thirsty so, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off for a lickswishy bottle of Frobscottle.