From Agent Wonka to Big Friendly Zombies, snozsprouts to puckleberries, this year’s entrants to the BBC Radio 2 500 Words competition show how Roald Dahl’s language continues to inspire them.
At the end of Roald Dahl’s much-loved tale of The BFG, the eponymous giant is inspired to take up storywriting, and generations of Dahl’s young readers have done likewise, using his stories as a creative spark to light their own imaginations. Nowhere is this more evident than in the annual BBC Radio 2 500 Words story competition, where young writers gleefully experiment with Dahlesque words and ideas with the inventiveness of linguistic Willy Wonkas. Here are just some of the new concoctions they have come up with this year.
Big Friendly Others
The BFG’s abbreviated name is a gift for young wordsmiths, and this year it has sparked over 200 brain-boggling variations, from the cuddly BFR (Big Friendly Rabbit), to the fantastical BFD (Big Friendly Dragon), BFY (Big Friendly Yeti) and BFZ (Big Friendly Zombie). These are countered by some Not-So-Friendly cousins, such as the BFG’s nemesis, the BUG (Big Unfriendly Giant), and my personal favourite, the SGP: What most people never knew about the BFG was that at weekends the giant would have a sleepover with his best friend called the Small Grumpy Person – SGP (boy, 6).
In children’s writing, Dahl’s invented gobblefunk words happily coexist with everyday vocabulary. A character called Mrs Kahlo makes delumptious enchiladas (girl, 11), and another stares wide eyed at the bright, jumbly, jelly of a sun (girl, 11). The most popular Dahl word or phrase for young human beans to use is, it turns out, human bean itself, followed closely by the ever-useful scrumdiddlyumptious. Both these words have already escaped into the world of grown-ups, and it is possible that others will follow. In these young writers’ ability to stretch words to fit new contexts, we can see the beginning of new senses that may soon influence the wider world.
Zozims and Snozpers
Young writers are always keen to add their own words to the lexicon of gobblefunk. So we have lunar creatures called Zozims whose name echoes zozimus, the stuff that dreams are made of, and purple spotted boggleswogglers that recall Dahl’s bungswoggling giants. The BFG’s dreaded trogglehumper (the worst kind of nightmare) morphs into a Troglehumpous, while the more pleasurable phizzwizard gives rise to a Golden Fizznocer. Dahl’s slimy snozzcumber, the disgustive vegetable that the BFG is forced to eat, has inspired new members of the snozz family, including snozcarrots and snozsprouts (which have the same unfortunate effect as frobscottle). We also find snozz-inspired characters, such as the evil Snozpers, who plan to take over the world by eating all the human beans.
Roald Dahl delights his young readers with the colourful insults and rude words that his characters hurl at each other. (There is a whole panel on insults in the Oxford Roald Dahl Dictionary if you need some tips.) Happily, this tradition is thriving among young writers, whose characters call each other You silly snozzcumber! and (with a nicely alliterative touch) You slice of snozzcumber! The wonderfully named Mrs Puckleberry (based on muckleberries from the land of the Minpins) even uses her own surname as an expletive: ‘Oh puckleberries,’ exclaimed Mrs Puckleberry as she landed on her bottom with a big bump! (girl, 9).
The Mayor of Gobblefunk
There is a new career for Willy Wonka after he leaves his factory to Charlie, as he stars in a new story as Secret Agent Wonka (in a nod to his previous life, he has a dog called Candy). We also have Professors Whizzpopper and Fizzwhizz, and a wizard called Sir Whizzpop. Gobblefunk even becomes a town with its own Mayor of Gobblefunk, who is presumably an expert gobblefunker. This is surely something which would have made Roald Dahl– the original Mayor of Gobblefunk– hopscotchy with delight.
Who doesn’t like writing and reading backwards? In Esio Trot, tortoises do it all the time, and this has inspired non-tortoises to do likewise. Several young writers use backwards spells and code-writing to create mystery and suspense. EHT TXEN EULC SI TA DNOMAID SLLAF, reads one message, adding ominously: OG EREHT FI UOY ERAD! (girl, 8) But the prize for the most memorable motto goes to an alien with culinary ambitions:
It’s eight murky brown arms reached out and slime dropped from the mutant’s mouth as it bellowed: “I LLIW EKAT REVO EHT DLROW HTIW YM GNIKOOC SLLIKS.” (boy, 11)
Keep on Fobblegunking
Finally, it is not just chiddlers who can find inspiration in Dahl’s language. Last year in honour of Roald Dahl Day, I translated my email signature into gobblefunk. For a day, I was a Lecturer in the department of Langwitch and Wigsticks. This year, I plan to Dahlise my job-title of ‘lexicographer’. Leggylograffer? Flexifograffer? Or maybe I can be a Righter of Picksumberries…
Here are some ideas for the Not-So-Very-Grown-Ups among us for Roald Dahl Day:
- Tweet in Esio Trot language. 140 characters is a perfect length for sdrawkcab writing.
- Translate your email signature onto gobblefunk for a day.
- Use as many words of gobblefunk as you can in ordinary conversation. There are 394 of them, so you won’t run out! If you need a reminder, you can find all of these wondercrump words and more in the Oxford Roald Dahl Dictionary.
Dr Susan Rennie is the Chief Editor of the Oxford Roald Dahl Dictionary. She has worked on many dictionaries for both children and adults, including the Oxford Primary Dictionary, Oxford Primary Thesaurus, the Oxford English Thesaurus for Schools and the New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. She also writes books in Scots for children, and has translated Tintin and Roald Dahl’s The BFG into Scots. Susan is currently a Research Affiliate in English Language & Linguistics at the University of Glasgow and an Associate Lecturer for the Open University.