Roald Dahl 100: A guide to the ‘gobblefunk’

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Lucille Barrett
Lucille Barrett
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From wondercrump to uckyslush and quogwinkle to grobblesquirt, the “gobblefunk” language that Roald Dahl used in his children’s books has become part of his legacy.

Dahl famously included myriad made-up words and quirky twists on his books’ English language to stave off boredom in his young readers.

To mark 100 years since Dahl’s birth on September 13, Oxford University Press this month released The Oxford Roald Dahl Dictionary, a comprehensive guide to the biffsquiggling — that’s puzzling — the language of Dahl.

Chief editor of the dictionary and English language and linguistics lecturer at the University of Glasgow, Susan Rennie, said Dahl, who invented more than 500 words and character names, was the perfect candidate for a children’s


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“He is creative with everyday language, delighting in using similes, alliteration, puns, and spoonerisms — such as fast as a fizzlecrump, grizzly old grunion, and scrambled dregs — but he also he created his own words to add to the language,” she said.

These made-up words were created to spark children’s imaginations, Dr. Rennie said.

“Sometimes Dahl explains the word, so we know that a snow cumber is a striped knobbly vegetable from the description in The BFG,” she said.

“But he leaves other words deliberately vague, such as the names of creatures that inhabit Giant Country, so in those cases we only hint at the meaning, so as not to dampen children’s imaginations.

“For example, a humplecrimp is ‘an animal that is very common in Giant Country, but which no human bean has ever seen (so you will have to imagine what it looks like).'”

A page from The BFG

‘The entry for limerick is itself a limerick.’

The dictionary explained the meanings of around 8,000 Dahl words and took Dr. Rennie five years to compile.

“We include all of Roald Dahl’s invented words, from airplane to Zosimus, but we also include words that have special significance in his stories — like alarm-clock and blueberry and elevator,” she said.

“Roald Dahl uses some words that children are not familiar with these days, like blithering and steeplejack, so we explain those too.”

Dr. Rennie said one of the challenges was striking the right tone and voice for the dictionary.

“It had to be playful and mischievous, like Roald Dahl himself, but still be informative and credible,” she said.

“In keeping with Roald Dahl’s spirit, we explain ordinary words in very unordinary ways.

“For example, in the entry for the glove, we say: ‘Gloves are things that you wear on your hands to keep them warm or clean (or to hide your claws if you are a witch).’

“We were able to be more creative and subversive than in an ordinary dictionary for children.

“We even wrote some definitions backward and upside down, and the entry for limerick is itself a limerick.”

Scottish ‘guddlefank’ turns The BFG into The GFG.

Compiling the dictionary also led to another project for Dr. Rennie, translating The BFG for Scottish readers — which saw The Big Friendly Giant become The Guide Friendly Giant.

“I became fascinated by Dahl’s invented words while working on the dictionary,” she said.

“I started to play around with Scots versions and realised how much fun it would be to translate the whole story, including every single word of gobblefunk, into Scots.

“There are over 300 invented words in The BFG, so I needed to come up with Scots versions for all of them.”

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