The Whoopsy-whiffling World of Roald Dahl

The Whoopsy-whiffling World of Roald Dahl

Roald Dahl, as you know, is the writer of many beloved children’s books, such as The BFG, Matilda, and my personal favourite, Fantastic Mr Fox. My bookshelves used to be full of Roald Dahl’s stories that I would read over and over again. Each story more razztwizzling than the last. Then, on a nighttime when the lights had gone off, me and my sister used to listen to cassette tapes of some of his books being read to help us drift off and have some phizzwizzards. Our first choice for these tapes was usually George’s Marvellous Medicine. We listened to this tape so many times, that for school’s ‘show and tell’ day I was able to reiterate from memory each of the ingredients to this medicine in the order that George added them!

Named after the great explorer, Roald Amundsen (Norwegian hero, and the first man to successfully reach the South Pole!), Roald Dahl was born on the 13th of September 1916 in Llandaff, Cardiff. Both of his parents were Norwegian and so Roald grew up speaking both Norwegian and English. His parents wanted him to receive the best education possible by studying in English schools, and he often spent his school holidays in Norway with his mother’s family. Sadly, he lost both his sister and his father in 1920. His sister passed away from appendicitis, and his father from pneumonia whilst fishing in the Antarctic. Whilst being raised by his single mother, Roald was sent to boarding school in Weston-Super-Mare, and then moved to the bogglebox in Repton, Derbyshire. At school, teachers would actually say that Roald Dahl was a notmucher and didn’t excel at squibbling and literature despite having a love for the subject. This school was quite close to the Cadbury’s factory where pupils were known to be invited in to test new flavory-savory chocolates! I wonder if this was inspiration for one of his future books…

Roald Dahl didn’t just jump straight into writing, however. Oh no, he had a very gloriumptious string of careers before this. After leaving school, Roald got a job with Shell, the petrol company. Then shortly after this, he worked in Africa where he would supply oil to customers over there. But then, tragedy struck, and war broke out! Once World War II started, Roald Dahl traded his job as an oil supplier and became an officer for the King’s African Rifles where he and his troops would go and shootle the enemies. Later in 1939, Dahl joined the Royal Air Force (RAF) and became a Pilot Officer. Whilst flying his plane, he had been given the wrong directions on a long flight and he crashed in the Libyan desert, leaving him fluckgungled! After being rescued and managing a full recovery, he resumed his place as a pilot for the RAF where he served in Egypt. This was then cut short because not even a year after this, he was suffering from severe headaches and was sent home. During his time after the RAF, Roald worked for MI6 as a spy and would supply secret intelligence from Washington. If you’re interested in these adventures of his, then you’ll be happy to hear that Dahl wrote two biographies in his life, Boy which focuses more on his childhood, and Going Solo which tells us of these early, exciting careers!

Whilst living and working in Washington, Dahl met author C.S. Forester who inspired him to write his first book. This book was called A Piece of Cake and was about his time in the RAF. It was published in 1942 and was bought by The Saturday Evening Post for US$1,000. When it was published, it was given the new name Shot Down Over Libya to make it sound more war-related and show him as crodsquinkled. Roald Dahl’s first children’s book was published in 1943 and was called The Gremlins, which is based on the RAF folklore of little, dreadly creatures that would cause problems to planes. This was a very popular book at the time, Walt Disney even commissioned to make a film from it, however this would never be created.  Much like these Gremlins, a lot of Dahl’s other, more well-known books were often fantastical and imaginative, but would contain characters who are real fizzwigglers, such as Miss Trunchbull in Matilda and The Grand High Witch in The Witches. Dahl also helped to write the screenplay for the beloved movie Chitty Chitty Bang Bang which can also see this type of character with the Child Catcher. We also see some darksome scenes in his books, for example Aunt Sponge being flattened by the giganticus peach in James and the Giant Peach, and Augustus Gloop nearly being turned into fudge in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Most of Roald Dahl’s children’s books are written from the viewpoint of a child. It is common that we see the villains of these stories as adults who are mean and dispunge the children. As Dahl once said “I am totally convinced that most grown-ups have completely forgotten what it is like to be a child between the ages of five and ten… I can remember exactly what it was like. I am certain I can.” (Boy: Tales of Childhood). However, there is also at least one ‘good’ adult, such as the boy’s grandmother in The Witches, and Miss Honey in Matilda. People have noted that there are similarities that the children characters in these stories have with Roald Dahl himself, especially in his boarding school days.

Did you know that Dahl also used to write quite a different genre of book as well? He wrote over 60 short stories for adults that were quite macabre and full of gloomness. One of his stories, Man from the South was actually adapted a number of times for the telly-telly bunkum box, including an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, starring Steve McQueen. Since growing up, my taste in book has changed to more horror and scary books. One of my favourite short scary stories of Roald Dahl’s is Royal Jelly which features in the 1960 collection Kiss Kiss. The plot follows a newborn baby who won’t eat, and her father, who is a beekeeper, decides to add royal jelly to her milk. She soon starts to gollup the milk insatiably and she starts to get fatter and fatter until she looks like a large larval grub. It may not sound too scary now, but I was still quite young when I read this, and it was so horrigust that it has always stuck with me!

A lot of people have heard of Roald Dahl’s infamous writing shed where his best loved stories were created. His five children were not allowed in his Little Nest (as he would fondly call it), and he told them that wolves were kept inside (rommytot, of course!) to keep them away, although they were sometimes allowed to pop in if they knocked respectfully. It has been documented that a normal day for Roald Dahl would go as follows:

Morning – Dahl would make his way to the bottom of the garden at about 10am and enter his writing shed. He would then sharpen 6 yellow pencils that he kept in his Toby jug using his electric pencil sharpener. He would then start to write on his yellow legal writing pads that were imported from America especially for him to write his stories.

Lunchtime – After a couple hours of story-writing, Dahl would sharpen his pencils again and get some Scrumdiddlyumptious lunch. After eating, he would put a bet on the horses (which he loved to do) and then settle for a nap.

Afternoon – usually around 4pm, after waking from his nap which hopefully contained a ringbeller, Dahl would go back to his writing chair and do another two hours writing until 6pm when it was time to return to the house for tea.

When we think of Dahl’s books, it is not just the incredible worlds that the words transport us to, we also picture the diddly illustrations! Probably one of the most well-known duos in the literary world is that of Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake. Blake’s illustrations are so easily recognisable and when his drawings are seen, you are automatically thrust into the giganticus world of Roald Dahl. The first books that Blake worked on for Dahl were The Enormous Crocodile and The Twits. They didn’t have too much interaction with one another, but there was a fair bit of correspondence between the two regarding the ‘the spikes that stuck out straight like the bristles of a nailbrush’ of Mr Twit’s beard to get it just right. The two of them started to become friends when Blake was illustrating The BFG. His first drawings of a clown-like, comical faced BFG were rejected by Dahl due to there not being enough drawings. It wasn’t catasterous though - he went back to the drawing board and had another go! He watched how Roald Dahl was with his granddaughter, Sophie (who gave the little girl in The BFG her name), and took another angle at his work. He drew him as ‘grandfatherly’ and gentle, which Dahl clearly loved!

Dahl’s books have the power to take you to different worlds, and those worlds stay with you even as a grown up. He has inspired generations of readers from his classic childhood tales to his darker short stories for adults. There are very few genres of book that this not-pibbling-at-all author hasn’t been able to impact in some way. So, whoever you are, chiddler or grown-up, why don’t you pick up one of his books to celebrate Roald Dahl Day this year?

So please, oh please, we beg, we pray / Go throw your TV set away / And in its place you can install / A lovely bookshelf on the wall.” Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Kat D, Content Selection Team


Dahl’s Children’s Books Dahl’s Adult Books


Glossary of Dahl’s Gobblefunk, in alphabetical order:
(If you gobblefunk with words, you play around with them and invent new words or meanings)

Bogglebox - Boys school

Catasterous - a very bad situation, and a catasterous disastrophe is the worst of all.

Chiddler - a child

Crodsquinkled - see fluckgungled - in a hopeless situation

Darksome - dark and murky

Diddly - Individual or distinct

Dispunge - something you hate

Dreadly  - used to describe awful creatures,like vindscreen-vipers

Fizzwigglers - someone who is mean and cruel

Flavory-savory - something sweet and delicious

Fluckgungled - see crodsquinkled - in a hopeless situation

Giganticus - grand and spectacular

Gloominess - darkness/nighttime

Gloriumptious - glorious and wonderful

Gollup - a big gulp or swallow

Grunches - eating food noisily

Horrigust - truly horrible and disgusting

Kiddles - children

Lickswishy - A taste or flavour is gloriously delicious

Notmucher - someone who doesn’t do very much, or will never amount to much

Pebbling - small and unimportant

Phizzwizzards - good dreams

Razztwizzling - wonderfully exciting or enjoyable

Ringbeller - an amazingly excellent dream

Rommytot - talking nonsense

Scrumdiddlyumptious - utterly delicious

Shootle - to shoot someone with a gun

Squibbling - writing

Telly-telly bunkum box - The television

Whoopsy-whiffling - Great!

Oxford Roald Dahl dictionary

Rennie, Susan (, Edinburgh, Scotland)


For the first time in paperback, this Oxford Roald Dahl Dictionary takes readers aged 8+ on a phizz-whizzing, splendiferous, fantabulous journey deep into the language of Roald Dahl's bestselling children's stories. This is a dictionary which will develop language and literacy skills by igniting the creativity in all readers and writers everywhere. Lots of dictionaries tell you what an 'alligator' is, or how to spell 'balloon' but they won't explain the difference between a 'ringbeller' and a 'trogglehumper', or say why witches need 'gruntles' eggs' or suggest a word for the shape of a 'Knid'. This dictionary does all those things. All the words that Roald Dahl invented are here, like 'biffsquiggled' and 'whizzpopping' to remind you what means what, but that is not all. You'll also find out where words came from, rhyming words, synonyms and lots of alternative words for words that are overused. Oxford Children's Dictionaries are perfect for supporting literacy and learning and this is the world's first Roald Dahl Dictionary from the word experts at Oxford University Press.

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