I recently saw a summer movie I loved, mostly for its language. And that language was English. âTHE B F Gâ is a Disney movie for all ages which I recommend you see. British actor Mark Rylance plays the lead, a âBig Friendly Giantâ (BFG) and his character is constantly playing with the English language in a fractured, goofy way. Seeing the film sent me to its source, the book written by Roald Dahl. As author, Dahl invented the words the B F G comes up with.Â Hereâs a section where the B F G, after offering her something called a snozzcumber for lunch,Â explains to his new friend Sophie why he uses funny words:
âDo we really have to eat it?â Sophie said.
âYou do unless you is wanting to become so thin you will be disappearing into a thick ear.â
âInto thin air,â Sophie said. âA thick ear is something quite different.â
Once again that sad winsome look came into the B F Gâs eyes. âWords,â he said, âis oh such a twitch-tickling problem to me all my life. So you must simply try to be patient and stop squibbling. As I am telling you before, I know exactly what words I am wanting to say, but somehow or other they is always getting squiff-squiddled around.â
âThat happens to everyone,â Sophie said.
âNot like it happens to me,â the B F G said. âI is speaking the most terrible wigglish.â
âI think you speak beautifully,â Sophie said.
âYou do?â cried the B F G, suddenly brightening. âYou really do?â
âSimply beautifully,â Sophie repeated.
âWell, that is the nicest present anybody is ever giving me in my whole life!â cried the B F G. âAre you sure you is not twiddling my leg?â
âOf course not,â Sophie said. âI just love the way you talk.â
âHow wondercrump!â cried the B F G, still beaming. âHow whoopsey-splunkers! How absolutely squiffling! I is all of a stutter.â
Using Funny Words
BFG makes a conversation fun, doesn’t he? Throwing in a twistedÂ word is like a quick little tickle to his friend Sophie and she finds it beautiful. To the reader, it comes off like a surpriseÂ slap to the brain’s funny bone. You look at the word longer while trying to decipher its meaning.
When youÂ addÂ something wondercrumpish like the B F G does to his sentences, you are being more playful with the language.Â Children do this all the time, inventing words by mistake. (This is part of the appeal of author Roald Dahl who makes it fun for young readers with his funny characters.)
When you try it in conversation, it can be a witty wake-up call telling your companions, âHereâs something different. Listen to THIS!â
Next time you’re out a a restaurant, order the âankle steak.â Whaaa? Sounds like something from a very different part of the cow don’t it? Â Or how about trying the âMacabre Saladâ instead of a Cobb Salad? Watch children squirm with delight. Does that mean you want a dark and scary salad? Not really, itâs a learning moment, to teach the meaning of the word macabre.
When you play with words while conversing, you get into the moment.Â When you toss in a goofy word, you change the moment. The listener has to stop and think about the sentence. Maybe ask a question about the word. Soon theÂ teaching work blends together with play beautifully. (Ah, such a secret engagement!)
Making such a play in your conversation makes room enough so that ensuing conversation can become as big as your subject, big as your imagination. When you invent and explore this way, you will find interesting people interested in playing with you, too. I guarantee ya!
Quick example: the original title for this blog was âPLEASED TO MEET ME.” It is not only the title of a Replacements rock-and-roll record * — but it twists (a BFGÂ squiff-squiggle?) around the words you would normally expect, which are: “Pleased to meet you.” Whatever does that mean? “Pleased to meet me.” I see it as a folk journalist’s attempt to engage with a subject on such a new, enlightening, or surprising level, they were glad you happened to come along!
I once began a radio report, about L.A. high schoolers being forced by the “No Child Left Behind” law to sign up for theÂ draft, this way: âIn our local high schools, the student opt-out rate is soaring.â Here I was playing on, âdrop out rate.â Journalists do this all the time, trying to “capture the ear” and make the listener listen more closely to the sentence.
So just as playing with other people back-and-forth brings a folk journalist his greatest pleasure, you too can turn into a merry mythemagician the next time you find yourself cruisingÂ the old conversation station for a cuppa chit chat. Add to the mix that extra brew âyo, you’ll find your references soon a-flying like postmodern posts, leaving you and your partner laughing it off and changing your world one conversation at a time!
Check out these Word Smithies:
“Words are the world we live in. Locution Locution Locution.” Wittgenstein
Groucho Marx once said, about to go up as the elevator door closed, âMenâs tonsils, please.â **
Modern Hebrew is like Elizabethan English. Its a marvelous instrument. Iâve even been able to invent new words where none existed before by joining certain words.Â Amos Oz
The Firesign Theatre, perhaps the greatestÂ American comedy group, has nothing but fun with the English language: “Itâs hotter than a heater in hellâs mouth in Kingâs Nose, Pennsylvania.”Â For even funnier and more accurately quoted big funny goodies from them, checkout:Â www.firesigntheatre.com/
And speaking of funny conversationalists, enjoy the master (referenced above in an elevator):
* The Replacements record album Â http://www.allmusic.com/album/pleased-to-meet-me-mw0000195442
** From the book BRIEF ENCOUNTERS by Dick Cavett, Henry Holt 2014 Â http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/21/books/review/dick-cavett-by-the-book.html?_r=0
And one more from THE BFG by Roald Dahl
âWhat happens when a giant dies?â Sophie asked.
âGiants is never dying,â the B F G answered. âSometimes and quite suddenly, a giant is disappearing and nobody is ever knowing where he goes to. But mostly us giants is simply going on and on like whiffsy time-twiddlers.â