In Roald Dahl's Words

Roald Dahl’s stories are best known for their child heroes who demonstrate an unwavering sense for what is right and wrong even as they face difficult challenges and villainous adults. This is perhaps due to his unpleasant experiences as a child, which his autobiography Boy delves into. But another notable feature of his work is the use of words dubbed Gobblefunk.

Though appearing to be gibberish, they have an uncanny ability to convey exactly what was meant. Given that Roald Dahl’s stories are written for children from the perspectives of child protagonists, the decision to eschew proper, ‘grown-up’ words for ones that can belong fully to the children, makes a great deal of sense.

In 2016 these fascinating words were compiled and published in a dictionary, complete with the trademark illustrations by Quentin Blake. We found eight books that contain Gobblefunk, can you think of more? 

Fantastic Mr. Fox

Fantastic Mr. Fox

The fact that it was none other than Boggis’s chickens they were going to eat made them churgle with laughter every time they thought of it.

If you have ever gurgled while laughing, then you have churgled! The word is a portmanteau of ‘chuckle’ and ‘gurgle’, combing the two words into one.

The Witches

The Witches

’So now!’ barked the Grand High Witch. ‘So now I am having a plan! I am having a giganticus plan for getting rrrid of every single child in the whole of Inkland!’ 

When something is larger than gigantic, it is surely very grand and spectacular. And that is exactly what giganticus means!

Esio Trot

Esio Trot

’This is it!’ he whispered to himself under his breath. ‘The greatest moment of my life is coming up now! I mustn’t bish it. I mustn’t bosh it! I must keep very calm.’

Does bish sound like the sound of something being punched or hit? Precisely; bishing something will ruin it, especially if some boshing is involved as well.

George's Marvellous Medicine

George’s Marvellous Medicine

 “George ... was especially tired of having to live in the same house as that grizzly old grunion of a Grandma.”

A Grunion is a very mean or grumpy person, which is probably why George did not want to live with his grandmother. Upon reading the word, one is prompted to think of grunting and grumpy, neither which sound very pleasant! This is also a great example of Dahl’s application of alliteration.

The Twits

The Twits

Mrs. Twit ... suddenly called out at the top of her voice, ‘Here I come, you grizzly old grunion! You rotten old turnip! You filthy old frumpet!’

Readers get the sense of frumpet’s meaning from its similarity to ‘frumpy’, which refers to a woman or her attire looking old-fashioned and dowdy. Therefore, frumpet refers to someone who is old and unattractive.



Spiders is also talking a great deal. You might not be thinking it, but spiders is the most tremendous natterboxes.

Natterbox refers to someone who cannot stop talking. A riff of ‘chatterbox’, ‘natter’ is a nod to the British slang for a casual chat between two persons. The giant from the BFG is very fond of creating new words through mispronunciation, such as Mintick (minute), Human Beans (human beings), and Exunckly (exactly).

Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator

Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator

’It’s a steel rope,’ said Mr. Wonka. ‘It’s made of re-inscorched steel. If they try to bite through that their teeth will splinter like spillikins.’ 

Reminiscent of ‘reinforced’, re-inscorched refers to a process of toughening metal to make it extra strong. ‘Scorched’ also invokes imagery of blacksmithing, which uses heat to soften iron or steel for shaping.  

James and the Giant Peach

James and the Giant Peach

’It’s worse than that!’ cried the Chief of Police. ‘It’s a vermicious Knid! Oh, just look at its vermicious gruesome face!’ 

A combination of ‘vermin’ and ‘vicious’, vermicious refers to something vicious and nasty, like a Knid. It is so terrible that even the Chief of Police is horrified!

Need more Roald Dahl? Going Solo details his travels in Africa and life as a World War II pilot. Plus, get 20% off his titles from now until 28 February 2019! 


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