From human beans to belly jeans: Inside the Oxford Roald Dahl Thesaurus

Oxford Roald Dahl Thesaurus

What word describes the shape of a Vermicious Knid? Which Roald Dahl character stridulates? And what does snozzcumberophagous mean? These are all things that you can learn from delving into the pages of the new Oxford Roald Dahl Thesaurus.

The Oxford Roald Dahl Thesaurus offers a tour of Roald Dahl’s world through his words and language. Like that of its sibling, the Oxford Roald Dahl Dictionary, its coverage is therefore selective and has a distinctly Dahlesque flavour. The category for CLOTHES, for example, lists breeches, top hat and tail coat; and NIGHTCLOTHES include Grandpa Joe’s signature striped pyjamas, but no zebra onesies. Even the names of the categories are recognisably Dahlian: BEASTLY HUMAN BEANS have a category all to themselves.

This is not, then, an ordinary children’s thesaurus.

Not only does it include and classify hundreds of words that Roald Dahl invented (snozzberry and frumpkin under FRUITS AND VEGETABLES and gigantuous and snipsy under SIZE), or that are peculiarly relevant for Roald Dahl’s world (chocolatier under JOBS FOR GROWN-UPS), it is not in alphabetical order. In fact, the Oxford Roald Dahl Thesaurus is the first — and so far the only — full thesaurus aimed at chiddlers to be arranged by topic rather than by letter.

Oxford Roald Dahl Thesaurus 'All About Chiddlers' spread
Oxford Roald Dahl Thesaurus ‘All About Chiddlers’

There is a certain comfort for a lexicographer in alphabetical order. Even if you don’t know yet how you will define a word (what exactly IS a fizzlecrump?) you can at least start by filing it reassuringly under its letter. But take the scaffolding of the alphabet away, and you are left with dillions of tricky decisions. Should sneeze be put under NOISES or next to NOSES? Things get even trickier when you try to classify the extra-usual world of Roald Dahl, where pelicans work as window-cleaners and waterfalls are made out of chocolate. Is an egg-beater a kitchen utensil or a piece of magical paraphernalia? In the world of Roald Dahl’s imagination it is both — and therefore in THIS thesaurus it has a place not only in COOKING but also in DREAMS.

The very first English thesaurus, compiled by Peter Mark Roget in 1852, was thematic, and in fact a thematic arrangement is ideal for a children’s thesaurus, where much of the vocabulary refers to concrete things and describes people, actions, and the world around us. A thematic order also helps less confident readers and budding writers who may not be sure where to start. Do you look for beards under HAIR or FACES — or even, in Mr Twit’s case, LEFTOVER FOOD? (Roald Dahl himself was a famous beard-hater or pogonophobe and might have listed them in PHOBIAS.)

Discover a world of words

Not every word in the Oxford Roald Dahl Thesaurus is to be found in Roald Dahl’s writing. Some words are there because they usefully describe a Roald Dahl character or story: dapper, for example, to describe the well-dressed Mr Wonka, or bioluminescent for the light-emitting Glow-worm. Roald Dahl never used the word stentorian to describe Miss Trunchbull — but it fits her rather well, just like her bottle-green breeches.

A thesaurus that is worth its Veruca Salt should do more than simply inform; it should inspire its readers to create. Roald Dahl owned a much-thumbed thesaurus which he kept in his famous Writing Hut in Great Missenden (alongside the silver ball made from chocolate wrappers and his sugically removed hip bone). In a nod to the author’s writing habits, the Oxford Roald Dahl Thesaurus includes creative Writing Hut pages which prompt chiddlers to be linguistically adventurous in describing their own story worlds or inventing fantabulous characters and creatures. (Would a group of sleeping giants be called a snortle of giants or a snoozle? Would several snozzcumbers be a slimation or a knobblement?) We want readers to emulate, rather than copy Roald Dahl, by using his favourite techniques to build and play with words, for example to create spoonerisms like belly jeans from jelly beans — or something even more propsposterous.

Roald Dahl Thesaurus 'Nature Writing Hut' spread
Roald Dahl Thesaurus ‘Nature Writing Hut’

Your golden ticket to storywriting

The Oxford Roald Dahl Dictionary and Thesaurus do different things (which is why it is a Very Good Idea to use BOTH). If a reader finds the word hornswoggler in a Roald Dahl story (no spoilers to say which one) they can look it up in the Oxford Roald Dahl Dictionary — and then hopefully get distracted and keep browsing. But if they are planning to write their own story with magical creatures, they can turn to the Oxford Roald Dahl Thesaurus category for EXTRA-USUAL CREATURES and find not only hornswogglers, but also hippogriffs and manticores and many more, plus words to describe their frightswiping body parts and curdbloodling sounds.

Like the companion Dictionary, the Oxford Roald Dahl Thesaurus is built for browsability. Each page spread covers a different topic and is sprinkled with snipsy word facts with which to bamboozle grown-ups (such as the origin of hare-brained, or the Frisian word for frobscottle). We hope that every chiddler who comes across it will want to DILLY and DALLY on each page, finding new favourite words in every topic to spark ideas for buckswashling stories. As it says in the Preface:

“Words are the STUFF of STORIES and creating things out of words is every bit as magical as making waterfalls out of chocolate or dreams out of zozimus.” – Susan Rennie

From human beans to belly jeans: Inside the Oxford Roald Dahl Thesaurus’ by Susan Rennie, Chief Editor and Lexicographer

Susan Rennie illustration by Quentin Blake
©2019 The Roald Dahl Story Company Ltd/ Quentin Blake

Dr Susan Rennie is the Chief Editor of the Oxford Roald Dahl Thesaurus. She has worked on many dictionaries and thesauruses 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 the first Scots edition of The BFG and Tintin.

Susan is the author of the Oxford Roald Dahl Dictionary and Roald Dahl’s Rotsome and Repulsant Words.

Discover more

Can you tell a camelopard from a cryptozoologist? Discover a world of words and language facts inspired by the World’s No.1 storyteller with our Oxford Roald Dahl Thesaurus pop quiz!