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Roald Dahl in 1971. (Photo: Ronald Dumont/Getty Images)

When it comes to making up inventive additions to the English language, perhaps the greatest rival to Dr. Seuss was the British childrens’ author Roald Dahl. Writer of such classics as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda and The BFG, Dahl was famed for his distinctive use of language, repurposing old vernacular as well as inventing entirely new words and phrases. And now, to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of his birth, Oxford University Press are dedicating an entire dictionary to his creations.

Yes, words like snozzberry (a fictional fruit from Charlie), scrumdiddlyumptious (self-explanatory, surely?) and gobblefunk (the very act of playing around with language and inventing new meanings of which Dahl was so fond) now have official dictionary definitions, albeit in a book of their own rather than the Oxford English Dictionary proper. The Oxford Roald Dahl Dictionary was compiled by lexicographer Dr Susan Rennie, and features illustrations from Dahl’s long-term collaborator Sir Quentin Blake.

“[Dahl] didn’t always explain what his words meant,” says Rennie, “but children can work them out because they often sound like a word they know, and he loved using onomatopoeia. For example, you know that something lickswishy and delumptious is good to eat, whereas something uckyslush or rotsome is definitely not.”

“He also used sounds that children love to say, like squishous and squizzle, or fizzlecrump and fizzwiggler, which makes his stories so much fun to read, whatever age you are. Children use Dahl’s words a lot in their own writing and also create words inspired by the way he built words.”

Aside from listing Dahl’s own invented words, the dictionary also serves as a handy guide to modern readers of his books, as it explains the meaning of more antiquated words he employed on occasion, such as ruddyblithering and breeches.

“Roald Dahl’s inventive, playful use of language is a key element to his writing,” said Luke Kelly, Dahl’s grandson and the managing director of his literary estate. “So it is wonderful to have this dictionary compiled with such expertise, passion, and wit. I hope it serves as a swashboggling source of inspiration for a whole new generation of storytellers.”

The book is published on June 2. Meanwhile, the latest movie to be based on one of his works —the Mark Rylance-starring adaptation of The BFG, directed by Steven Spielberg—is due for release in July.

Which do you think is Dahl’s most “wondercrump” word?

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Filed Under: Roald Dahl
By Seb Patrick