9 Splendiferous Words from the Oxford Roald Dahl Dictionary

Keystone/Getty Images
Keystone/Getty Images

Today is Roald Dahl's birthday. Fans of the author of James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The BFG, and Matilda are celebrating Roald Dahl Day with phizz-whizzing birthday parties and other wondercrump activities—and the Oxford Roald Dahl Dictionary gives us a chance to explore the wonderful world of Roald Dahl's words.

The dictionary covers interesting facts, mini-etymologies, and usage points for a range of everyday words from Dahl's books, but the real fun starts in the sections on "gobblefunking" with words. Gobblefunk, a verb of Dahl's own invention, means to play creatively with sound and meaning—something the author excelled at. Here are nine other examples from the Oxford Roald Dahl Dictionary.

1. ZOZIMUS

The dictionary goes from aardvark to zozimus. Aardvark makes it in because "every dictionary has to start with aardvark; otherwise it would have to start with aback, which is just too boring." Zozimus is from The BFG, and is a word for the stuff that dreams are made of.

2. GLORIUMPTIOUS

Like wondercrump and splendiferous, gloriumptious conveys pure marvelousness by blending together form and meaning from other words. In this case, glorious and scrumptious.

3. HORRIGUST

Things aren't always gloriumptious in Dahl's stories. Marvelousness has an opposite and there's no better word for it than horrigust, a blend of horrible and disgusting.

4. BIFFSQUIGGLED

Just one of the standout words in this quote from The BFG: "'You must not be giving up so easy,' the BFG said calmly. 'The first titchy bobsticle you meet and you begin shouting you is biffsquiggled.'" The dictionary describes it as capturing what it feels like when "your brain is reeling from a punch and is as muddled as a squiggly piece of doodling."

5. GROBBLESQUIRT

In addition to children, the witches in The Witches hunt creatures like the long-snouted grobblesquirt. They also hunt the blabbersnitch, and the crabcruncher.

6. WHIPPLE-SCRUMPTIOUS FUDGEMALLOW DELIGHT

This delicacy from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is not only the candy bar in which Charlie finds a Golden Ticket, it's also a phrase that manages to be exciting and delicious all at once.

7. CHURGLE

In Fantastic Mr. Fox, people churgle with laughter. Are they chuckling or gurgling? No need to decide. Why not both at the same time? There's a word for it!

8. HUGGYBEE

Giants need terms of endearment, too. The BFG tells Sophie to "stay where you is in my pocket, huggybee." It's a term as sweet as honey and as warm as a hug.

9. PROPSPOSTEROUS

It's almost preposterous, but with the wrong vowels and extra letters. Which makes propsposterous an even more preposterous word than preposterous.

This piece originally ran in 2016.

Why 'Run' Is The Most Complex Word in the English Language

iStock.com/VectorStory
iStock.com/VectorStory

English can be hard for other language speakers to learn. To use just one example, there are at least eight different ways of expressing events in the future, and conditional tenses are another matter entirely. For evidence of the many nuances and inconsistencies of the English tongue, look no further than this tricky poem penned in 1920. (For a sample: “Hiccough has the sound of cup. My advice is to give up!”)

As author Simon Winchester wrote for The New York Times, there’s one English word in particular that’s deceptively simple: run. As a verb, it boasts a record-setting 645 definitions. Peter Gilliver, a lexicographer and associate editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, spent nine months sussing out its many shades of meaning.

“You might think this word simply means ‘to go with quick steps on alternate feet, never having both or (in the case of many animals) all feet on the ground at the same time,’” Winchester writes. “But no such luck: that is merely sense I.1a, and there are miles to go before the reader of this particular entry may sleep.”

This wasn’t always the case, though. When the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary was published in 1928, the word with the most definitions was set. However, the word put later outpaced it, and run eventually overtook them both as the English language's most complex word. Winchester thinks this evolution is partly due to advancements in technology (for instance, “a train runs on tracks” and “an iPad runs apps”).

He believes the widespread use of run—and its intricate web of meanings—is also a reflection of our times. “It is a feature of our more sort of energetic and frantic times that set and put seem, in a peculiar way, sort of rather stodgy, rather conservative,” Gilliver told NPR in an interview.

So the next time you tell your boss you "want to run an idea" by them, know that you’re unconsciously expressing your enthusiasm—as well as all the other subtleties wrapped up in run that previous words like set failed to capture.

[h/t The New York Times]

11 Little-Known Words for Specific Family Members

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iStock.com/kali9

The words we use for family members in English are specific about some things, and vague about others. Our vocabulary marks a distinction between our mother and her sisters (some languages use one word for mother and maternal aunts), but doesn't say whether siblings are older or younger (some languages have different words for brother and sister depending on their age relative to you). We lack words that pick out particular family members (we have cousin, but what about child-of-my-father's-brother?) as well as certain general terms (we have siblings for brothers-and-sisters, but what about nieces-and-nephews?)

If you look hard enough, you can find some words to help fill in the gaps. Here are 11 unusual English kinship words for family members.

1. Patruel

This one means "child of your paternal uncle." Also, a child of your own brother. It hasn't gotten a lot of use in the past few centuries, but it was once convenient to have a term for this relationship because it factored into royal succession considerations. The first citation for it in the OED, from 1538, reads, "Efter his patruell deid withoutin contradictioun he wes king."

2. Avuncle

Your mother's brother. Latin distinguished between patruus, father's brother, and avunculus, mother's brother. (There was also amita, father's sister, and matertera, mother's sister.) It's the root of the word avuncular, meaning "having to do with uncles" or "uncle-like" (i.e., kind and friendly, like an uncle). You won't find the word avuncle in the dictionary, but it has been used in anthropology texts and in papers concerning royal matters.

3. Niblings

Your nieces and nephews. You won't find this in the dictionary either, but use of this term seems to be growing among favorite aunts and uncles who want an easy way to refer to their little bundles of sibling-provided joy in a collective or gender-neutral way.

4. Fadu

Your father's sister. Latin amita covers this relationship, but we don't have to reach that far back to find an English equivalent. Old English made a distinction between aunts and uncles depending on whether they were maternal or paternal. We lost all that when we borrowed the more general aunt and uncle from French.

5. Modrige

"Your mother's sister," from Old English.

6. Fœdra

"Your father's brother," from Old English.

7. Eam

Your mother's brother. It survived in some dialects as eme, with a more general meaning of uncle or friend, into the 19th century.

8. Brother-uterine

Your half-brother from the same mother. This is a term used in old legal documents or other discussions of inheritance and succession. Half-siblings of the same mother are uterine and of the same father are consanguine.

9. Brother-german

Full brother, sharing both parents. Nothing to do with Germany. The german here is related to germane, which originally meant "of the same parents" and later came to mean just related or relevant.

10. Double cousin

Full first cousin, sharing all four grandparents. This comes about when a pair of sisters marries a pair of brothers, among other circumstances.

11. Machetonim

The parents of your child's spouse. Your child's in-laws. Ok, this is a Yiddish word, but one that, like a lot of Yiddish words, has poked its way into English because it fills a gap. When it comes to marriage, this can be a very important relationship, so it’s good to have a word for it. If your parents get along with their machetonim, the family—the whole mishpocheh—will be happier.

This story was republished in 2019.

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