Gobblefunk: An Interview with the Brains Behind the Roald Dahl Dictionary

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From giant peaches to wicked witches, no one has inspired the hearts and minds of children for generations like the great Roald Dahl. The Oxford University Press (the people who brought you the Oxford English Dictionary) published the ultimate Roald Dahl tribute: the Oxford Roald Dahl Dictionary. Now available in paperback, you’ll find words from “aardvark” to “zozimus,” and all manner of everyday and invented words by Dahl, and its illustrated throughout! We caught up with the dictionary’s Chief Editor, Dr. Susan Rennie, and the Head of Children’s Dictionaries at Oxford, Vineeta Gupta, to ask them about the book and get the scoop on some of the most Dahl-esque moments of their own lives. Read on!

dahl dictionary

Red Tricycle: What is the first Roald Dahl story you remember reading?

Susan Rennie: I came to Roald Dahl backwards (which is a very Dahlesque thing to do), as I read his adult stories first, from Tales of the Unexpected. I only came to his children’s stories later, when I read them to my daughter. The first Roald Dahl story I read to her was The Twits, and I have ringbelling memories of us giggling over it.

Vineeta Gupta:  I was already a grown-up human bean, but did bunk off work early one day to read The BFG. I was hooked and spent the next two days reading all his other books…and eating chocolate. It was wonderful to go back to Roald Dahl’s books with my daughter. We used to have fun gobblefunking at speed – try saying these words quickly: whoopsey-splunkers, whoppsy-whiffling, winksquiffler, slime-wangler, slopgroggled, slushbungle, sloshbuckling, and sloshflunking! Or catasterous disastrophe!

RT: Can you tell us how this project was born? What sparked the idea?

SR: I like to think that the BFG blew the thought into Vineeta’s head one night as it is such a golden phizzwizard of an idea!

VG: It feels like a dream! Children love using long words, mischievous words, made-up words, words invented by Roald Dahl. As creators of dictionaries for children, I wanted to capture the words children play and learn with, but many of these are not in standard dictionaries. So we got in touch with Roald Dahl’s Literary Estate, spoke to academics, language experts and many, many children. And if there are any Chiddlers and human beans who think this dictionary is propsposterous…read it and you’ll be learning about language quicker than squinkers!

RT: Truthtell: What is more frightening—being turned into a mouse by a witch or being chased by a vermicious knid?

SR: Being turned into a mouse, because that isn’t the end of things. You then have to contend with cats and chefs and mouse traps and all manner of trouble. If a Knid gets you, that’s it, you are lixivated—end of story.

VG: I agree with Susan. But I wouldn’t want to wake up to find myself in Giant Country, with unfriendly giants like Bloodbottlers, Bonecrunchers, Childchewers, and Fleshlumpeaters, with no BFG in sight! Just as terrifying!

RT: If you were James, would you have gone inside the peach or run away from the Aunts sooner?

How could anyone resist climbing into a giant peach in their garden? Although the Aunts were mean and nasty, I would have been more worried about runaway rhinoceroses, given what happened to James’s parents. The peach would be a very safe place, as any rhinoceros trying to ram it would have got stuck in the peachy flesh with its horn.

VG: I would have wanted to be part of the magic, like James, and climbed into the peach. I would have loved to meet the Old-Green-Grasshopper, Ladybird, and Centipede, and I would have been terrified to meet Miss Spider (although she made some wonderful hammocks to sleep in!).  

RT: Could you actually walk past lickable wallpaper without licking it, or the chocolate stream without tasting it? In other words: could you have won the factory? Would you have a better chance now as an adult or as your child self?

SR: My downfall would have been in the Inventing Room. I wouldn’t have been able to resist pressing all those buttons to see what would happen, so I would have come to a very sticky end. Nowadays I would probably just start chatting to the Oompa Loompas and ask them about Loompaland and then miss the rest of the tour. Either way, I wouldn’t get the Factory.

VG: I would have come to an ucky-mucky end in the chocolate room.

Vineeta with Roald Dahl dictionaryphoto of Vineeta courtesy Oxford Univesity Press 

RT: What candy would you invent?

SRChocolate Frost that you can spray out of a can. It would make the same beautiful patterns as frost on a window, but then you could lick it off. It would taste like chocolate ice cream. And if you sprayed it into the air it would come down in individual snowflakes. Wouldn’t that be fun on Christmas day?

VG: A chocolate vegitible would taste good!

(RT editor’s note: if anyone invents Chocolate Frost please send samples for review!)

If given the chance, would you live in a gypsy wagon?

SR: Only if there were enough space in it for a proper oven, and all my books—so probably no.

VG: Yes, especially if the wagon had lots of children’s books that could magically appear and disappear depending on my mood. I could travel the world the slow way, and meet millions of children and swap stories and books. Maybe also a cupboard of chocolate?

(RT: We’re detecting a theme with Vineeta and chocolate). 

RT: Have you ever eaten pheasant? Was it poached?

SRYes, but it was roasted not poached (I stole that joke from Willy Wonka). Once, several years ago, seven pheasants landed in our garden one after the other. They strode around for a while, and then flew off spectacularly all at once (it is called a bouquet of pheasants when they do that). I would never have tried to catch them, even if I had known about the trick with raisins.

VG: No. I only eat vegitibbles–and chocolate.

RT: What is a snozzcumber, really?

SR: The snozzcumber (Cucumis snozziatus) is a knobbly vegetable that is part of the gourd family. As it has black and white stripes, it must be easy to spot against the yellow desert backdrop of Giant Country. Although it tastes disgusting to giants and human beans, it is not poisonous, and is most likely the staple food of the other creatures in Giant Country, such as the humplecrimp and the crumpscoddle, so is probably very nutritious.

VG: And if you want to see what it looks like, see page 231 of the Oxford Roald Dahl Dictionary

Susan with dictionary Roald Dahl photo of Susan courtesy Oxford University Press 

RT: Have you ever invented a word?

I’ve recently completed a Scots-language version of The BFG and I had to invent over 300 words for that. As there are no translations for Dahl’s gobblefunk words, I had to make them up, based on existing Scots words and sounds. Some names that I came up with for bad dreams are trauchlefasher, girnscunner, and flegfechter.

VG: Yes, we were constantly inventing words in our family—to use them as a secret language to say rude things to each other that our parents couldn’t understand. And then there were things that we didn’t have a word for, so we often used words like thingy, thingummy, thingimijig, thingamabob, or in Roald Dahl language, thingalingaling!

RT: What is your favorite Roald Dahl-created word?


SR: Sizzle-pan, because it sounds so much more interesting than plain old frying pan. I also love zozimus (what dreams are made of), because it sounds so ancient and exotic—and as it comes at the end of the alphabet, it makes a perfect ending for our dictionary.

VG: It would have to be zozimus – it conjures up everything magical and extra-extra-usual, like the blue words in the Oxford Roald Dahl Dictionary.

Readers who’d like to grab their own copy of this awesome dictionary can order it here. Available where ever books are sold.

What’s your favorite Roald Dahl story? Tell us about it in a comment below.

—Amber Guetebier