Last week, the Oxford English Dictionary published its quarterly update. To honor the centennial of Roald Dahl’s birth on September 13, the OED editors included, among its more than 1,000 revised and updated entries, a collection of new and revised entries for words that many people first encountered in Dahl’s works.
Perhaps the greatest honor bestowed upon the famed children’s author was the inclusion of the new entry Dahlesque, “resembling or characteristic of the works of Roald Dahl.” Though the Dahlesque entries highlighted in this update found popularity through Dahl’s works, many of them have surprisingly long histories that predate Dahl, sometimes by centuries:
- Frightsome, “causing fright,” was used in The BFG in 1982 but dates back to a poem from 1689.
- Golden ticket: The five golden tickets in 1964’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory went to Charlie Bucket, Augustus Gloop, Veruca Salt, Mike Teavee, and Violet Beauregarde, but the first golden ticket, which grants its holder an exclusive prize, appears to have been rewarded in the early 19th century.
- Gremlin: Dahl’s first children’s novel was 1943’s The Gremlins, but the term, which now most often means “a mischievous sprite imagined as the cause of any trouble or mischance,” dates back to World War I.
- Human bean is simply a humorous alteration of human being that was used in The BFG, but it appears in print all the way back in 1842.
- Scrumptious was an East Anglian word attested to 1823 that originally meant “stingy,” but in 1961’s James and the Giant Peach — and today — it’s a colloquialism meaning “excellent, delicious.” It’s shorter version, scrummy dates back to 1844.
- Scrumdiddlyumptious — “extremely scrumptious” — before it was used in The BFG, appeared in 1942’s American Thesaurus of Slang. You’ll likely have to add this one to your spell-checker’s dictionary yourself.
- Splendiferous and splendiferousness, “abounding in splendor, magnificent,” appeared in 1975’s Danny, the Champion of the World but is attested all the way back to the 15th century.
- The witching hour, “the time in the dead of night when sinister things are most likely to happen,” took center stage in The BFG. It was recorded in 1762, but may trace its lineage back to a line from Hamlet that refers to “the very witching time of night.”
Oompa Loompa also made it into the OED. This one was all Dahl. An Oompa Loompa, if course, is one of the diminutive factory workers featured in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and burned into our collective conscious by the 1971 Gene Wilder movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Beyond the book and the flick, Oompa Loompa has become a derogatory epithet for someone who resembles one of the fictional characters — either a short person or someone with a bad orange spray tan.
The OED’s update included a lot of words that have nothing to do with Roald Dahl, too. You can see the whole list here. Taken at face value, this is just a list of words that were entered or altered, but a creative mind can find more in it. Lists like this often contain unexpected juxtapositions of words that are almost poetic, or that have the ring of a Shakespearean insult, or that, at the very least, would make wonderfully horrid band names.
For example, in the OED update list, you’ll find “associate professor bathroom humor,” “cheek kiss cheer squad,” and “kiss cam latrine pit.” What scrumdiddlyumptious combinations can you find in there?