A language fit for a giant

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Today is Roald Dahl Day, an event dedicated to celebrating a man whose stories have frightened and delighted both children and adults alike since the 1940s. This year, the theme of the day is ‘celebrating all the tricksy characters that fill Roald Dahl’s books’. For my post today, I’ve decided to take a look at a character who has been my favourite ever since I was a child, a character with a very big heart and a rather tricksy way with words…the BFG.

If you’re unfamiliar with Roald Dahl, or with The BFG, let me give you a quick overview of the story: when Sophie, a young girl who lives in a miserable orphanage, is snatched away from her bedroom by a giant, she thinks she won’t survive past breakfast time. Instead, she discovers she has been taken by the world’s only Big Friendly Giant – the BFG, for short. When Sophie finds out that the other – less friendly – giants are planning to feast on English children, she is desperate to stop them and convinces the BFG to help. Together they recruit the Queen of England and set off with the Army and the Royal Air Force to try and pull off an impossible plan.

In my post on words from Harry Potter, I suggested that one of the reasons it is easy to get lost in the stories is because of J.K. Rowling’s inventive use of language. The same can be said about almost every single one of Roald Dahl’s books. The BFG, in particular, is appealing to children because it is full of fun wordplay. As the BFG explains to Sophie: ‘Every giant is having his own favourite hunting ground’ – people from Wellington will have a ‘booty flavour’, whereas people from Panama have a ‘hatty taste’, and people from Jersey leave the ‘most disgustable woolly tickle on the tongue’. You would be wrong, though, if you assumed that Danish people tasted like Great Danes – as the BFG explains, while they do taste ‘ever so much of dogs’, that’s because ‘they is tasting of labradors’; meanwhile, it’s people from Labrador, Canada who taste of Great Danes! Perhaps the BFG isn’t so wrong when he declares he ‘is a very mixed up Giant’.

As well as playing around with the English language, Roald Dahl also invented a list of vicious names to give his evil giants (the Fleshlumpeater used to give me nightmares!), and created Gobblefunk – a language of made-up words used exclusively by giants. Some of my favourite Gobblefunk words are ‘Snozzcumber’ (disgusting) and ‘Frobscottle’ (delicious) – the food and drink the BFG consumes in place of human children.

Roald Dahl is part of a tradition of British children’s writers who are known for their use of inventive and nonsense-like language to transport their readers into another world. In my next post, I’ll take a look at three more writers whose made-up words have remained imprinted on my brain since I first read them as a child. In the meantime – what are you doing to celebrate Roald Dahl Day? Who’s your favourite tricksy character? I’d love to hear!

Avani Shah

13 Sep 2013
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