According to a recent opinion poll conducted by You Gov in the UK, Roald Dahl is Britain’s favourite writer of all-time.
Dahl would certainly get my vote. There are many authors I love and admire as an adult, but there’s something about a beloved childhood author that stays with you forever. I devoured all of his books and I’m not ashamed to admit I’ve re-read a few of them as an adult.
I love his work for much the same reason as anyone else who read them as a child; the vivid characters, the sinister storylines, the comeuppances and sense of morality tale, and the good old fashioned fun with word-play.
The anarchy of The Twits. The gentle feminism of Matilda. The Narnia-esque weirdness of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The trippy-ness of The BFG, and the nastiness of The Witches.
Dahl had an incredible capacity for creating words and sounds, much like JK Rowling, Shakespeare and Dickens, three of the other top five writers in YouGov’s poll. He called it ‘Gobblefunk’, a language unique to his writing with new words and terms popping up across many of his books.
Everyone has their favourite words, of course.
In no particular order, here are five of my favourite Dahl linguistic creations:
VERMISCIOUS KNID huge, egg-shaped alien baddies from Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator.
Many years ago, when I couldn’t think of an insult suitable for work, I described a particularly loathsome senior executive as a ‘Vermiscious Knid’. Brilliant. I’ve always loved the sound of it, the suggestion and mimicry of much ruder words. And you can’t be told off for saying it.
SNOZZCUMBER a twelve-foot, cucumber-like vegetable covered in wart-like growths that tastes like rotten fish. Enjoyed by the BFG himself.
As a fussy child who hated vegetables, I delighted in a name that made them sound as disgusting as I found them. The sources of my dinnertime misery were more elegantly named ‘carrots’ and ‘green beans’ so at least snozzcumbers sound as gross as they taste.
JIGGERED there is no hope.
Seems particularly relevant at the moment, as Britain makes a dog’s dinner of Brexit. I’d almost expect Theresa May to declare outside 10 Downing Street: “Quite frankly, we’re jiggered.” There are times when only made-up words will do (aren’t all words made-up though? I’ll get to that another time…).
HUMAN BEAN this is what the BFG calls human beings.
Admittedly, it’s not the most inventive in Dahl’s lexicon, but sometimes skill is subtle. Human bean, obviously, sounds deliciously like a toddler mispronouncing the term human being.
I love the idea of being a human bean. It sounds like an altogether better type of human; bouncier, quirkier, naughtier. Who doesn’t want to say; “I’m a human bean,”?
PLUSSY a lively person, full of energy. Opposite of a ‘Minus’.
“She’s a Minus no longer! She’s a lovely Plus! She’s as plussy as plussy can be!” Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator
Again, there are times when only a made-up word will do. Plussy sounds so much more exciting and desirable than ‘live wire’ or ‘spirited’. Who doesn’t want to be a plussy?
Dahl was also a great master of the short story and wrote volumes of witty, inventive, chilling stories for adults on topics ranging from murder to adultery to art. I’ve read them all. They’re incredible.
His work has taught me a lot about keeping a fertile and limitless imagination well into adulthood.
What a plussy.