Last week marked the centenary of Roald Dahl’s birth and to celebrate, the Oxford English Dictionary has published a range of revised and newly drafted entries containing references to Roald Dahl’s writing in its latest update.
The words included are recognisably ‘Dahlesque’ and while not all are coined by him, they have magical qualities that instantly evoke the vibrant worlds that have captivated the imaginations of so many.
Dahl was a true wordsmith, a creative man who jumbled up the letters and presented us with words that are fun to say. He offered us a new spin on old words, such as splendiferous, [splendid/marvellous] which was first used more than five hundred years ago to mean resplendent, and revived other words that hadn’t been used for decades, such as scrumdiddlyumptious, [extremely scrumptious; excellent, splendid; (esp. of food) delicious] because sometimes, scrumptious just isn’t enough.
Many children (and parents alike) were delighted when he introduced us to Oompa Loompas in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the diminutive and musical workers from Loompaland. Who could forget the much coveted golden ticket, an all access pass into the magical world of Willy Wonka himself. We learnt that we’re all human beans thanks to The BFG, the big friendly giant so named for his unusual friendliness, and found out about that magical time called the witching hour, described by Dahl as the ‘special moment in the middle of the night when every child and every grown-up [is] in a deep deep sleep’ (although it was actually first mentioned in 1762 in a poem by Elizabeth Carter Keene).
That’s the wonderful thing about Dahl, he understood that language shouldn’t be static or limited to our current understanding, rather, that language can be fun and that we should play with it and delight in its possibilities.
Of the inclusions, Dahl’s grandson Luke Kelly (Managing Director of The Roald Dahl Literary Estate) says: “It’s no secret that my grandfather, Roald Dahl, took particular relish in playing with language and making it his own. Of all the many wonderful tributes being paid to him in his centenary year, the inclusion of his words and phrases within the iconic Oxford English Dictionary feels not only one of the most fitting but one that I know would have made him extremely happy and proud.”
The OED is one of the largest and longest-running language research projects in the world. It is an unsurpassed guide to the meaning, history, and pronunciation of over 829,000 words, senses, and compounds – past and present – from across the English-speaking world. As a historical dictionary, the OED is very different from those of current English, in which the focus is on present-day meanings. You’ll still find these in the OED, but you’ll also find the history of individual words, and of the language – traced through over 3.3 million quotations, from classic literature and specialist periodicals to film scripts and cookery books. For more information about the OED please visit the website.