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Children invent and reimagine language as they’re getting to grips with the spoken word. Those new words can act as inspiration for our creativity. They certainly raise a smile from ear-to-ear. But how do they come about?
As children develop language, they’re matching the sounds they hear and connecting them to the original word. The more our vocabulary grows, we begin to anticipate what we think someone will say. So, we end up with something like a Filofax in our minds, where we’re sifting through the possible options of what the word will be. ‘Fa…’ – father, farmer, family…!?
Here are some examples of many splendid wordy creations, with the ‘real’ word or meaning in brackets (just in case you need it):
• Elalamp (elephant)
• Suggestive biscuits (digestive biscuits)
• Strangled eggs (scrambled eggs)
• Bouncealine (trampoline)
• Crooks and grannies (nooks and crannies)
• Snotrils (nostrils)
• Troublums (trouble and problems, a little problem)
• Loudie (noisy)
• Peas and noodles (pins and needles)
• Marks and spensive (Marks and Spencer)
• Oopsagloo (super glue)
• Fourthead (forehead)
The list could go on, and on, and on, and… there’s enough to make a book for every parent there is. Without doubt, it’s worth noting down what your little human beans come up with so you can savour their alternative dictionary long after they’ve corrected themselves.
Producing some of the most recognizable children’s literature of our time, including Matilda, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and The BFG, Dahl played with language and took delight in creating new words using identifiable linguistic methods. He used acronyms, loan translations, blends, formed new compounds, and created new words from syllables and word fragments.
If you feel biffsquiggled, you are confused or puzzled.
Someone who doesn’t do very much, or will never amount to much.
If you dispunge something, you hate or loathe it.
If you say “exunckly” to someone, you are agreeing with what they have just said.
If you call someone a frumpet (not that you would), you mean that they are old and unattractive.
A natterbox is someone who cannot stop talking, usually about nothing in particular.
To mark his centennial birthday, Oxford University Press packaged the words that are utterly distinct to Dahl, whether they’re familiar terms infused with new meaning or entirely made-up phrases. Dive into The Oxford Roald Dahl Dictionary, compiled by Dr. Susan Rennie. It’s both an unconventional tool for teaching children how to read, and an expansive collection of one man’s contribution to literary history.
Parents often find themselves saying the same things:
“Have you brushed your teeth?”
“Go to bed.”
“Put your toys away, please.”
It’s repetitive. Tiresome. And frankly dull.
If one of the best children’s authors can experiment with words, it’s a perfect endorsement to let your children invent their own language. Every mistake is glorious. My advice, don’t correct your child’s speech – even if the words are clumsy, they’re enjoying and playing with language. It’s often fun to hear, and nine times of ten they’ll be just as fun to say. You can delight in the pleasure of the difference.
It’s almost inevitable that they’ll get it right in the end too. You’re not likely to have a twenty-something spluttering ‘notmucher’ or ‘Vermicious’ around an office.
I don’t think dad and I haven’t fully passed the grown-up test. Two of our made-up words are ‘sicklists’ (cyclists) and ‘flibber-flobbers’ (slip on shoes). It’s a mix of silliness and fun. Almost like an accidental secret language, code between us. You might be surprised how many reimagined words have slipped into your day-to-day lives. A young friend of mine calls her quads/thighs her ‘bum-legs’, and her family call themselves ‘Goonballs’. Tweet me @words_person your examples of reimagined language.
Leigh James (that’s me) is a Senior Freelance Copywriter.
Image from LXF lamps.