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Neology in children’s literature: A typology of occasionalisms

Cécile Poix


In literature, writers have the liberty to deviate from linguistic norms under a principle known as poetic license. Poetic license allows deviation in favour of making language inspiring. Deviation from linguistic norms often implies that writers can take liberties with word formation, thus neology in literary contexts should be addressed specifically. This article analyses the status of literary coinages in the scope of neology and describes the specific context of children’s literature. The article also offers a typology of nonce  formation processes for occasionalisms, with textual analysis, from a corpus of children’s books, using J. Tournier’s matrices of lexicogenesis [2007: 51].

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1The overwhelming presence of coinages in English literature for children implies that lexical innovation is essential to the fantasy-driven world of children’s books. An opaque coinage often stands out like a magic formula. The fate of such nonce words depends on their playfulness – and a possible film adaptation of the book.

2Several distinctions need to be made in the study of neology in children’s literature. Fictional coinages do not fill any lexical gap, nor do they enrich the lexicon. Thus, the ‘one off’ characteristic of fictional coinages is a predominant feature of such new words. The terminology of nonce formation is described in this article, as well as two main functions of occasionalisms in the context of children’s literature.

3Adopting J. Tournier’s taxonomy of lexicogenesis matrices (matrices lexicogéniques) [2007: 51], this article reviews coinages extracted from a corpus of ten classic children’s books. Both external and internal matrices are described while the sub-classes of this typology are enhanced to address all nonce formation processes encountered.

1. Neology in children’s literature

4According to J. Pruvost & J.-F. Sablayrolles [2003: 54], a coinage is a linguistic sign like any other associating a signified (meaning) and a signifier (form) both pointing globally towards an extralinguistic referent. Coinages in the context of children’s literature range from transparent formations to opaque creations which do not necessarily have a clear extralinguistic referent. This section reviews different types of coinages and their terminology, as well as the context of children’s literature.

1.1 Literary coinages

5Coining a new word in fiction cannot be compared with spontaneous word formation in speech. Authors purposely using new words or phrases do so for a reason that is highly correlated to the context of their books.

1.1.1 Occasionalisms, nonce formations and neologisms

6There are several reasons for “the coining or use of new words or phrases” [OED3]. In literature, the main motivation for new word formations is not to enrich the lexicon but to enrich the text itself. P. Hohenhaus [2007: 17-18] makes a distinction between ‘neologism’ and ‘nonce-formation’ based on their integration into the lexicon. For him, neologisms are “words that are ‘young’ diachronically speaking, but which nevertheless have already entered the language as more or less institutionalised vocabulary items”, whereas nonce formations are “in fact new – in the sense of newly actively formed in performance, as opposed to being retrieved from the lexicon”.

7Since there is little chance for literary coinages to enter the language, they can be classified as nonce formations.

8L. Bauer makes the same distinction [2004: 77], stating that “there is a tradition of restricting the term ‘neologism’ to a number of specific subsets of newly coined words.” For him, the contrast between ‘nonce word’ and ‘neologism’ is manifest once “a newly coined word enters the general vocabulary of the language”, thus gaining the status of ‘neologism’.

9However, L. Bauer [2004: 78] defines nonce word or nonce formation as “a newly coined word, invented on the spot to serve some immediate need”. Previously, L. Bauer [1983: 45] had defined nonce formation as “a new complex word coined by a speaker/writer on the spur of the moment to cover some immediate need”. Neither definition truly corresponds to nonce formation in literature as it is hard to conceive that an author would coin a word impulsively without much planning and consideration. L. Bauer indicates [2004: 78] that “for some authorities a nonce word is by definition ephemeral, and then contrasts with a neologism”. Ephemerality is not the best criterion to define coinages in literature, as books can survive through centuries. However, the coinage is entrapped in the book where it is found, with an uncertainty that its use will spread outside its contextual situation.

10There is another broad definition of nonce words by D. Crystal [2002: 132] which does not fit fictional nonce formation: “A nonce word (from the sixteenth century phrase for the nonce, meaning ‘for the once’) is a lexeme created for temporary use, to solve an immediate problem of communication”. However, in literature, the author purposely coins nonce words for poetic effect and not to solve a communication problem.

11The term nonce word, according to the OED3, was coined by lexicographer James Murray to refer to words used “on one specific occasion or in one specific text or writer’s works”. This general definition matches the coinages encountered in literature. Though dating back from the nineteenth century, it does not reflect current research on neology.

12W.U. Dressler & B. Tumfart [2017: 155-156] recount linguists’ studies on literary nonce formations and define the term occasionalism, coined by E. Chanpira:

The interest of linguists in poetic and literary language in general has an old and prominent tradition – for example Watkins (2001) in Indo-European linguistics, Spitzer (1910) in Romance linguistics, and Jakobson (1960) and Coseriu (1971) in structural linguistics, the latter insisting that literary writers are capable of exhausting the potentialities of a language to a greater extent than non-literary writers. For generative linguistics, we can name Bierwisch (1965), who adapted to this model the focus on poetic deviations from “normal” language, an approach inherent in the Prague School concept of alienation, prized by Mukarovsky (1970). For Russian linguistics, one must name Chanpira (1966), who coined the term occasionalism, meaning a new word created for a poetic function at a specific place in a literary text, and which has little chance to be accepted by the language community as a neologism (more in Zemskaja 1973: 227–240).

13The term occasionalism and the above definition are adopted in this article for all coinages encountered in the study of neology in children’s literature. I henceforth refer to the process as nonce formation and to the result as occasionalism.

14J. Munat [2007: 166], in a descriptive study of novel word formations in children’s literature, states that “these fly-by-night constructions find their raison d’être exclusively in the text for which they have been created and will be stored in the mental lexicon only for the duration of the reading experience”.

15However, the success of the book – and a potential cinematographic adaptation – will enable such occasionalisms to endure and gain currency. There is then no reason for them not to follow the cycles of consolidation and establishment (see H.-J. Schmid [2011: 71-81]). As such, the adjective runcible was first attested in Edward Lear’s limerick The Owl and the Pussy-cat (1870). The origin of the occasionalism, according to the OED3, is uncertain: “perhaps an entirely arbitrary formation, or perhaps an arbitrary alteration of rouncival”, obsolete adjective meaning ‘gigantic, huge; robust.’ E. Lear’s occasionalism was used to modify various nouns: cat (Laughable Lyrics, 1877), hat (Nonsense Songs and Stories, 1888), goose and wall (Nonsense Songs and Stories, 1895). The adjective runcible was further attested by other authors according to the OED3. Records of consolidation are dated through the nineteenth century until 2004. Unlike any suggestion provided by E. Lear for his books of verse, the adjective is lexicalised in the complex lexeme runcible spoon, which is a curved three-pronged fork with one sharp outer edge. Despite its institutionalisation, runcible spoon remains absent from the BNC and shows only a frequency of two in the COCA, one of which is a proper noun. However, runcible has not completely dropped out of the collective lexicon, though the word is mostly used metalinguistically, to debate about its meaning and etymology.

16As H.-J. Schmid puts it [2011: 75], neologisms are “new words that have succeeded in surviving beyond a one-off use in an ad-hoc situation”. Therefore, a successful occasionalism can gain the status of neologism once it starts being used outside the scope of the book it emanated from.

17In literature, the author neologizes, creating occasionalisms – and not neologisms – which are not meant to enrich the lexicon but to enrich the text. This liberty follows the principles of poetic license, which W.U. Dressler [1993: 5028] explains as follows:

18In Classical rhetoric, Latin poetarum licentia ‘license of poets’ meant a liberation of a grammatical or stylistic obligation in favor of another obligation such as the Aristotelian effects of alienating, of generalizing, of making language sublime, etc. Thus what commonly had to be regarded as a proscribed error could be allowed if motivated by some literary purpose and/or accepted because of the poet’s authority. Here lies the origin of the concept of deviation from linguistic norms, in our case from norms of word-formation.

19Authors play with the lexicon, as they use stylistic devices, to refine the text, taking liberties with norms of word formation.

1.1.2. Children’s literature

20Children’s literature is complex to define. To understand what is prototypical of children’s literature, a valuable resource is the article written by K. Lesnik-Oberstein, entitled “What is Children’s Literature? What is Childhood?” [2002: 15-29]. Here is the introduction by the editor, Peter Hunt [2002: 14]:

The study of children’s literature involves three elements – the literature, the children, and the adult critics. The relationship between these is complex, partly because childhood and ‘the child’ are difficult to define, partly because adults need to ‘construct’ the child in order to talk about the books, and partly because the literature is assumed to be ‘good for’ children in some way. The tensions which are generated are fundamental to the ways in which we think and talk about the subject.

21Children’s literature is a literature written ‘for’ children. If childhood – simply speaking – is “the stage of life or period during which one is a child; the time from birth to puberty” [OED3] then children’s literature has a highly diverse audience. The recommended reading age is usually defined by the publisher and might reflect marketing decisions. For instance, The Hobbit was initially written by J.R.R. Tolkien for his children. Published in 1937, it was awarded a prize as Best Juvenile Fiction by the New York Herald Tribune. Currently, and according to commonsensemedia.org1, “it makes a great read-aloud for kids 8 and up and read-alone for 10 or 11 and up.” However, the book, first published in France in 1969 by Stock, was initially meant for an adult audience. Only in 1976 did it join the Bibliothèque Verte with an acknowledgement as a children’s book2. However, since the success of the film adaptation that followed the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the book is now ranking in France amongst the best sellers for teenage and young adults3.

  • 4 e.g. the villainous Jew representation in Oliver Twist.

22Children’s literature is also meant to be ‘good for’ children. Defining what is ‘good for’ children is subjective and mostly left for parents to decide in accordance with their views on religion, politics, family values, political correctness, education and development, etc. What is ‘good for’ children is also subject to a historical perspective and previously acclaimed books can become controversial4.

23Children’s literature is subject to a multi-layered censorship, as the book must appeal to the editor publishing it, an educational authority potentially recommending it, the parent buying it and possibly reading it out loud. But most of all, it must be attractive and interesting to the child. I. Pascua-Febles [2006: 111] states that “Children’s literature and translating for children […] is the result of a combination of different systems within a culture: social, educational and literary.” It is therefore interesting to analyse neology in a literary context that is potentially influenced by education. K. Lesnik-Oberstein [2002: 20] points out certain questions that arise with regard to children’s literature: what “levels of cognitive development [are] thought to be necessary to understanding the content of the book;” should the author write up or down; what is good writing? This article does not provide an answer to these questions but inventories the types of neology encountered in children’s literature.

24To analyse occasionalisms in children’s literature, I compiled a corpus of children’s classics from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. My corpus is multilingual and aligned. It comprises English, French, German and Italian as both source and target languages. Therefore, the choice of books was restricted by the availability of translation in all other three languages. I endeavoured to select books with much poetic license. From this corpus, other languages than English may be studied, as well as translation. However, this article only reviews English and does not reflect on diachronic variations.

25For the purpose of this article, I will only review the data where English is the source language. The selection of children’s books by British writers used in this study is as follows: Charles Dickens Oliver Twist [1837], Lewis Carroll Alice’s adventures in Wonderland [1865], Robert Louis Stevenson Treasure Island [1882], Rudyard Kipling The Jungle Book [1894], John Ronald Reuel Tolkien The Hobbit [1937], James Matthew Barrie Peter Pan (Peter and Wendy) [1911], Clive Staples Lewis The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe [1950], Roald Dahl The BFG [1982], Philip Pullman Northern Lights [1995] and Joanne K. Rowling Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone [1997].

26The above-listed British corpus is made-up of over 735,000 tokens and 20,781 word-types. Candidates for nonce formation were detected computationally with an exclusion list of attested words with British spelling: the Mieliestronk list5.

1.2 Types of nonce formation (process)

27Typologies of word formation processes can vary depending on their theoretical framework (see J.-F. Sablayrolles [2000] and P. Štekauer [2000]). In her study of lexical creativity in children’s literature, J. Munat [2007: 167] analyses coinages – according to W.U. Dressler’s classification – as non-rule-governed items, with the following subcategories (of which she only contemplates the first and last):

1) metamorphology, comprising punning, linguistic games and nonce formation;
2) premorphology, or children’s inventions prior to development of the module of morphological grammar;
3) paramorphology, including echo-words, blends, back-formation and onomastic creations.

28Assuming that lexical innovation in children’s literature is a recreational process that can be applied to any lexicological pattern, for the purposes of this article, I have favoured another lexicogenic frame to analyse occasionalisms and have chosen J. Tournier’s matrices [2007: 51]. Tournier defines internal and external matrices. The latter is when the coinage borrows linguistic material from other languages. The internal matrices of lexicogenesis are split into three types: morphosemantic, semantic and morphological neology. For each type of neology, nonce formation in children’s literature can be a case of word formation, word de-formation or word creation.

1.2.1. Word formation

29H.-J. Schmid [2011: 70] defines word formation as the expansion of the lexicon “through the formation of new lexemes from already existing morphological material”. An example of word formation from my corpus is P. Pullman’s coinage anbaric as in the following excerpt:

(1) The Common Room and the Library were lit by anbaric light, but the Scholars preferred the older, softer naphtha lamps in the Retiring Room.

30P. Pullman’s language is well documented and Oxford University Professor S. Horobin, in an OxfordWords blog6, provides us with the following explanation of anbaric:

In Lyra’s world lights are fuelled by anbaric rather than electric energy. This term returns to the roots of the Latin electricus, which is itself derived from the Latin word electrum, ‘amber’. Electric was originally adopted to describe objects that develop static electricity when rubbed, a property first observed in amber. Pullman’s coinage anbaric pursues the etymology of this word further back to the Arabic word anbar, from which the English word amber ultimately descends.

31The coinage anbaric, as seen in (1), is thus the affixed form (internal matrices) of a loanword – also called borrowing (external matrix). P. Pullman used further derivation of anbar: anbarographs, anbarology, anbaromagnetic, which follow standard word formation processes described in J. Tournier’s internal matrices (the above-listed examples are all cases of affixation with combining forms).

32However, the occurrences of occasionalisms in my data did not all fit J. Tournier’s subcategories, which had to be enhanced.

1.2.2. Word de-formation

  • 7 Coined by Dahl.
  • 8 Coined by Dahl.
  • 9 Coined by Dahl.

33In children’s literature, the nonce formation of occasionalisms often tends to be the de-formation of existing lexical units. Lexical units are altered to reproduce mistakes made by children in the language acquisition phase (e.g. the segmentation mistake a norphan7 for ‘an orphan’). They can also be muddled up lexemes or phrases meant to produce a humorous effect on the reader: rhinostossterisses8 (for ‘rhinoceroses’), Sweden sour taste9 (for ‘sweet and sour taste’).

34Such alterations under poetic license are sometimes referred to as ‘metaplasm,’ though W.U. Dressler deems the term outdated [1993: 5028]:

The Classical and rhetorical concepts ‘solecism’ (erroneous expression) and ‘metaplasm’ (solecism accepted by habit or because of the authority of its creator) are outdated and have largely been replaced by ‘neologism.’

35In the OED3, metaplasm is defined as “the alteration of a word by addition, removal, or transposition of letters or syllables”. There are several occurrences in my corpus where the signifier is altered, and I refer to this process not as metaplasm but as word de-formation.

1.2.3. Word creation

36In children’s literature, nonce formation is not limited to word formation and word de-formation. Word creation (also called word manufacture or creation ex-nihilo) is common. Word creation, as H.-J. Schmid puts it [2011: 69] is when words “originate neither formally nor semantically from morphological material that already exists”. Such occasionalisms – which do not seem to have a clear referent in the extralinguistic world – generally reinforce the fictional illusion of the text. Word creations often combine a free morpheme with a nonsense word. This is illustrated in example (2) below, where R. Dahl uses obscure euphemistic occasionalisms to reproduce the swearing of nine angry giants:

(2) ‘I is flushbunkled!’ roared the Fleshlumpeater.
‘I is
splitzwiggled!’ yelled the Ghildchewer
‘I is
swogswalloped!’ bellowed the Bonecruncher.
‘I is
goosegruggled!’ howled the Manhugger.
‘I is
gunzleswiped!’ shouted the Meatdripper.
‘I is
fluckgungled!’ screamed the Maidmasher.
‘I is
slopgroggled!’ squawked the Gizzardgulper.
‘I is
crodsquinkled!’ yowled the Bloodbottler.
‘I is
bopmuggered!’ screeched the Butcher Boy.

37The morphemes that can be identified in (2) do not necessary lead to a meaningful lexical unit. Sometimes, free morphemes are created without any known etymon. They are usually explained by the author in the co-text, such as the example for J.R.R. Tolkien’s mithril below:

(3) It was of silver-steel which the elves call mithril, and with it went a belt of pearls and crystals.

38The occasionalism mithril in (3) is explained in the OED3 as a “Tolkienian arbitrary formation” and defined as follows: “In the fiction of J. R. R. Tolkien (subsequently adopted in other fantasy contexts with reference to Tolkien): a rare silver-coloured precious metal of great hardness and beauty.”

1.2.4. Combined formations

39Even if few occasionalisms in children’s literature follow the standard patterns of word formation, the majority are either a case of word de-formation or word-creation. Both have a strong impact on the reading. The reader has to pause and decipher words which are either difficult to pronounce and/or cognitively uneconomical. Here is an extreme case of combined formations by R. Dahl:

‘Words,’ he said, ‘is oh such a twitch-tickling (4) problem to me all my life. So you must simply try to be patient and stop squibbling (5). 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 (6).’

40In the above-mentioned excerpt, we have three puzzling occasionalisms:

(4) The compound twitch-tickling cannot be compositionally understood. Even though it originates formally from existing morphological material, none of the sets of meanings associated with twitch or tickling can explain the meaning of this composition. It could be a phonologically motivated creation based on the assonance in /ɪ/. Thus, I do not consider this nonce formation to be a word formation but a case of word creation that can only be analysed syntactically as an adjective modifying the noun problem.
Squibbling is a word de-formation of squabbling.
Squiff-squiddled around is an opaque word creation for which the best analysis I could come up with is a phonologically motivated de-formation of squirrel around.

41A possible rephrasing of R. Dahl’s excerpt would be: (4) words are a tricky problem, (5) stop squabbling and (6) I squirrel around for words. Even if reading this excerpt is uneconomical, it is likely to entertain the reader. Thus, the nonce formation of occasionalisms is not meant to enrich the lexicon but is likely to be a recreational process whose aim is to enrich the text.

1.3. Two functions of occasionalisms: hypostatisation and attention-seeking devices

42There is a strong history in children’s literature of defying language conventions, referred to as nonsense. Nonsense is a literary genre, popularised by E. Lear and L. Carroll in the mid-nineteenth century. In J.-J. Lecercle’s words [1994: 3]: “the genre is structured by the contradiction, which I shall eventually formulate in terms of a dialectic, between over-structuring and de-structuring, subversion and support”.

43Nonsense is recurrent in nursery rhymes:

Hey! Diddle, Diddle,
The cat and the fiddle,

The cow jumped over the moon;
The little dog laughed
To see such fun,
And the dish ran away with the spoon.

44The above traditional eighteenth-century rhyme is designed to delight children with impossible images and to develop their sense of fantasy. In fact, much of English children’s literature, including nursery rhymes and fairy tales, also belongs to the fantasy genre, which explores the realms of imaginary or magical worlds.

1.3.1. Hypostatisation

45The fantasy and the nonsense genres give opportunities for the nonce formation of occasionalisms to name animals (wargs), vegetables (snozzcumber), people (Muggles) and other entities which have no existence in the real world. Here are a few examples to illustrate this phenomenon:

(7) But even the wild Wargs (for so the evil wolves over the Edge of the Wild were named) cannot climb trees. [J.R.R. Tolkien, chapter 6].

46According to the OED3, J.R.R. Tolkien coined this word from Old Norse vargr [wolf] and Old English wearg [villain]. In The Hobbit, Warg is spelt with a capital initial. In later fiction, the noun is spelt in lower case.

(8) Nothing is growing except for one extremely icky-poo vegetable. It is called the snozzcumber. [R. Dahl, chapter 8].

  • 10 Schnozz is a slang term for nose.

47In the printed book, an illustration by Quentin Blake of a giant cucumber gives easy access to the meaning of snozzcumber. R. Dahl took the liberty of segmenting a morpheme to create the stem cumber. Even if snozz10 and cumber are not attested as concrete nouns, the illustration helps anchor the reader to the representation of the vegetable called snozzcumber.

(9) ‘A Muggle,’ said Hagrid. ‘It’s what we call non-magic folk like them’ [J.K. Rowling, chapter 4].

48According to the OED3, Muggle is derived from the noun ‘mug’ and defined as such: “In the fiction of J. K. Rowling: a person who possesses no magical powers. Hence in allusive and extended uses: a person who lacks a particular skill or skills, or who is regarded as inferior in some way.”

49Hypostatisation, a term introduced by L. Lipka, describes “the power of words in concept formation, namely that the mere existence of a name implies to a speaker that a corresponding entity must exist in extralinguistic reality” [P. Hohenhaus 2007: 20]. P. Hohenhaus further explains that fictitious words reinforce the overall fictional illusion. Thus, hypostatisation is a primary function of occasionalisms in the nonsensical and fantasy-driven context of children’s literature. In (7), (8) and (9), we have seen that the co-text and the illustration can provide the necessary information for the reader to access the concept.

1.3.2. Attention-seeking devices (ASDs)

50Other occasionalisms, such as the occurrences in (2) have too little co(n)text and no illustration that would allow precise meaningful reading. Some authors are prone to using ambiguous language. In stylistics, this is usually referred to as foregrounding. G. Leech & M. Short explain [2007: 23-24] that – for the Prague Linguistic Circle – the poetic function of language is distinguished by the foregrounding of the linguistic code:

  • 11 Leech & Short [2007: 22-23] present a classification of novelists by A. Burgess who identifies two (...)

This means that the aesthetic exploitation of language takes the form of surprising the reader into a fresh awareness of, and sensitivity to, the linguistic medium which is normally taken for granted as an ‘automatised’ background of communication. […] This foregrounding is not limited to the more obvious poetic devices, such as metaphor and alliteration. It may take the form of denying the normally expected clues of context and coherence. […] Class 2 prose is opaque in the sense that the medium attracts attention in its own right; and indeed, the interpretation of sense may be frustrated and obstructed by abnormalities in the use of the lexical and grammatical features of the medium.11

  • 12 Coined by Dahl.

51In linguistics, P. Hohenhaus [2007: 23] explains that “it has frequently been pointed out, in particular by L. Lipka [1987, 2000], that one important function of WFs [word formations] is to serve as so-called ‘attention-seeking devices’ (ASDs), which can be understood as a subfunction of more general ‘foregrounding.’” In children’s books, occasionalisms are often opaque lexical units that a reader needs to decipher (e.g. scrumdiddlyumptious12). This is cognitively uneconomical but definitely works as an ASD.

  • 13 Coined by Carroll.
  • 14 Coined by Kipling.

52The length of a lexeme can make it conspicuous. Prototypically, English words are monosyllabic or disyllabic. A scientific study by P. Flipsen Jr. [2006: 293-294] reveals that, in English, word length in spontaneous speech averages 1.2 syllables per word for children and ranges around 1.4 for adults. This explains the tendency to shorten words through clipping and initials. Therefore, lengthy occasionalisms will automatically stand out as attention-seeking devices. The difficulty to be spoken out loud (Hjckrrh13) is another means to make occasionalisms stand out. Also, reduplication can catch the attention of the reader (Rikk-tikk-tikki-tikki-tchk14).

2. Typology of occasionalisms

53Any classification requires a theoretical framework, and I have chosen to use J. Tournier’s lexicogenesis matrices (matrices lexicogéniques) as the basic structure of my analysis. In Introduction Descriptive à la Lexicogénétique de l’Anglais Contemporain, J. Tournier presents the word-formation processes of contemporary English in internal and external matrices.

2.1. External matrix

54The external matrix refers to coinages borrowing linguistic material from another language. In children’s literature, I found loanwords (also called borrowings) from other languages, as well as from forgotten English material. Borrowing in literature contributes to deictic anchoring and can reinforce the feeling of strangeness. Here are a few examples from my data.

(10) ‘Sikes is not, I suppose?’ inquired the Jew, with a disappointed countenance. ‘Non istwentus, as the lawyers say,’ replied the little man, shaking his head, and looking amazingly sly. [C. Dickens, chapter 26].

55The Latin borrowing non istwentus is a deformation of non est inventus [he or she has not been found] and is likely to show that the character has a smattering of Latin, here seen as the language of academia.

(11) Mael, mael, Kala Nag! (Go on, go on, Black Snake!) Dant do! (Give him the tusk!) Somalo! Somalo! (Careful, careful!) Maro! Mar! (Hit him, hit him!) [R. Kipling, chapter 11].

56R. Kipling was born in India where he returned after completing his studies in England. The Jungle Book is full of borrowings translated by the author in metalinguistic comments. It is unsure if the borrowings are indeed from Indian languages or fictional. Kipling allows his jungle animals to speak and the reader is immersed in the fantasy world anyway.

(12) The Master and the Librarian were old friends and allies, and it was their habit, after a difficult episode, to take a glass of brantwijn and console each other. (P. Pullman, chapter 2). […] The kind lady saw him settled on a bench against the wall, and provided by a silent serving-woman with a mug of chocolatl from the saucepan on the iron stove. [P. Pullman, chapter 3].

57The characters in Northern Lights drink brantwijn and chocolatl. These beverages sound exotic, though they are nothing more than plain brandy and hot chocolate. The etymology of brandy, according to the Merriam-Webster New Book of Word Histories [1991:  64] reveals that the word is derived from Middle Dutch brantwijn. The Merriam-Webster online section Words at Play15 also reveals that chocolātl is a Nahuatl root word, “from the combined words chikolli meaning ‘hook,’ probably referring to the beater used to mix chocolate with water, and ātl, meaning ‘water’ or ‘liquid.’” Nahuatl was the language spoken in central Mexico by the powerful Aztecs.

(13) Old fat spider spinning in a tree! / Old fat spider can’t see me! / Attercop! Attercop! / Won’t you stop, / Stop your spinning and look for me! [J.R.R. Tolkien, chapter 8].

58In the OED3, attercop is listed as an obsolete word meaning spider, “from Old English attorcoppa, < átor, attor, poison + coppa, derivative of cop top, summit, round head, or copp cup, vessel; in reference to the supposed venomous properties of spiders”.

59There are many more borrowings in my data of children’s literature with a similar function. Examples (10), (11), (12) and (13) show that such loanwords do not fill a lexical gap, but the external linguistic material is deliberately used to increase the strangeness of the reading.

2.2. Internal matrices

60J. Tournier’s internal matrices are divided into morphosemantic, semantic and morphological neology. The coinages in my data can easily be split into these three categories. However, since an occasionalism can be a case of word formation, word de-formation or word creation, I had to enhance the sub-classes of word-formation processes described by J. Tournier.

2.2.1. Morphosemantic occasionalisms

  • 16 “Back-formation is the formation of a word by the deletion of material which either is or appears t (...)

61For J. Tournier, there are two sub-classes of morphosemantic neology. The first one is about construction: affixation (prefixation, suffixation and back-formation16) and composition (compounds and blends). The other concerns phonological motivation with onomatopoeia and ideophones (also called phonaesthesia).

62In my lexicon of occasionalisms, I identified several types of morphosemantic neology (new form and meaning). Construction

63A multitude of potential words can be coined by affixation. This type of occasionalism, in my opinion, is less interesting to analyse as potential words are not idiosyncratic (e.g. P. Pullman coins semi-humans for bears which are forced to be more human-like). There are more interesting instances in my data of unnecessary coinages, which automatically work as ASDs. For instance, adding an unnecessary suffix (foulsome meaning ‘foul’) or replacing an affix with others (disgustable, disguterous, disgustive instead of ‘disgusting’). These are cases of word de-formation. There are also cases of word-creation (e.g. mispise, possibly coined from ‘despise’). I have not identified any instances of back-formation, which does not necessarily exclude this process for nonce formation.

  • 17 Kidsnatched is probably a blend of kidnapped and cradle snatched.

64Compounds, as explained by J. Munat [2007: 176] “are typically formed of one recognisable free root combined with a nonsense word (bumplehammer, dogswoggler) or two semantically unrelated words: […] fizzwiggler, gobblefunk, resulting in vaguely familiar, but ultimately uninterpretable nonce words”. When compounds are transparent (e.g. kidsnatched for kidnapped17), their coinage is generally unnecessary. Following the ‘blocking’ principle (see L. Bauer [2004: 22]), Dahl violates the synonymy constraint when coining kidsnatched, though this occasionalism allows new connotations. Blends are also present in children’s literature: horrigust [horr(i)ble x d(i)sgust] or wonderveg [wonderful x vegetable]. I have also identified three coinages by R. Dahl with the same ending: delumptious, gloriumptious, glumptious. My analysis is that from ‘scrumptious’, R. Dahl formed the blends delumptious [deli(cious) x scrump(tious)], and gloriumptious [glori(ous) x scrumpti(ous)]. The analysis of glumptious is not so obvious and the co-text does not provide any clue as to what the initial gl might refer to. According to V. Renner [2015: 121-122] a lexical blend, prototypically, is identified morphologically by the acts of clipping and overlapping, however, it also must “coordinate semantics”. There are few words in English that could be clipped to gl and overlap in ous, namely glorious, glamourous, glaucous and glutinous. It is possible that R. Dahl would have coined another lexical blend for ‘glorious.’ The other three candidates are unlikely to coordinate semantics with ‘scrumptious,’ especially since the coined adjectives modify ‘food’ and ‘music.’ As there are several occurrences of coinages ending in -umptious in R. Dahl’s The BFG, I am inclined to consider the emergence of a morpheme/suffix -umptious (meaning ‘very enjoyable, delicious’), playing the same role as the -gate suffix in English words referring to a scandal. Phonological motivation

65Undeniably, a link between sound and meaning can be established in children’s literature. J. Tournier makes a distinction between ideophonic and onomatopoeic elements. He chooses the term ideophone [2007: 139] coined and defined by C.M. Doke as “a vivid representation of an idea in sound”.

66Phonological motivation can be the only means to understand occasionalisms. For instance, R. Dahl describes a character:

(14) The grueful gruncious Jack (R. Dahl, chapter 14).

67The word de-formation by affixation grueful < gruesome is easy to understand. However, the word creation gruncious is opaque and its meaning is understood from the reduplication of the alliterative phoneme /gr/ as the growling of a ferocious animal. According to J. Tournier, /gr/ as an onomatopoeic element means groan [2007: 162]. However, as an ideophonic element (also called phonesteme) it symbolises seizing (as in ‘grab’, ‘grip’) [2007: 149]. Such distinctions are complex and hazardous. Extensive research on sound symbolism is available, especially the work of H. Elsen on onomastics in literary works. She refers to the broad definition of sound symbolism by J.B. Nuckolls “when a sound unit such as a phoneme, syllable, feature, or tone is said to go beyond its linguistic function as a contrastive, nonmeaning-bearing unit, to directly express some kind of meaning (Nuckolls 1999: 228)” [Elsen 2017: 492]. H. Elsen demonstrates that phonemes are linked with emotions and that the features of a fictional character could be perceived by the sound of its name.

68Without objecting to sound symbolism, this article does not endeavour to explore its depth as a nonce formation process. Onomatopoeias, however, are abundant in children’s literature and potentially less difficult to analyse.

69According to J. Tournier, onomatopoeias represent 1.2 percent of words recorded in English dictionaries. This word-formation process is not very productive (or productively attested by lexicographers) since their creation is usually initiated by playful impulse and the majority of such neologisms are unlikely to become lexicalised.

70Neological onomatopoeias are plentiful in R. Kipling’s Jungle Book (for instance: Aaarh, Aaa-ssp, Hhrrmph, Hmph, Rrrhha, Rrrmph, Sssss, Urrr, Yarrh, etc.). Such onomatopoeias add a sound effect to the reading. In my corpus, there are several occurrences of occasionalisms using onomatopoeias in compounds. There is not always a semantic link between the onomatopoeia and a possible referent. For instance, Dahl uses fizz to coin several occasionalisms:

(15) The filthy old fizzwiggler! (an insult)
(16) We is going fast as a
fizzlecrump! (simile indicating it is something fast)
fizzwinkel (noun whose meaning can only be guessed from the co-text): “Are you sure there's nothing else to eat around here except those disgusting smelly snozzcumbers?” she asked. “Not even a fizzwinkel,” answered the Big Friendly Giant.
(18) Pilffle
fizz! (an interjection)
(19) zipf
izzing off (phrasal verb that only partially makes sense with its co-text): “That is all the giants zippfizzing off to another country to guzzle human beans,” the BFG said.

71Each reader is likely to have a different interpretation of occasionalisms (15), (16), (17), (18) and (19). None of them bear the meaning of fizz as defined by the OED3:

1. An intransitive verb: “a. to make a hissing or sputtering sound. b. to move with a fizzing sound”. 2. A noun referring to effervescence, a hissing sound or a disturbance.

72By all accounts compounds with onomatopoeias work as ASDS. They have the advantage of adding a special sound effect to the reading. However, they remain ambiguous in meaning.

73In children’s literature, sound motivation is very important, especially when the book is likely to be read out loud and even when the sonorous occasionalisms are nonsensical.

2.2.2. Semantic occasionalisms

74The second category of occasionalisms belongs to semantic neology when the signifier remains identical but the signified is new or modified. For J. Tournier, there are two sub-classes of semantic neology. The first one is a transposition of the grammatical class (conversion). The other one concerns metasemantic processes: metaphor, metonymy (including synecdoche), figurative meaning and euphemism.

75With regard to the first sub-class, there are occasionalisms in my corpus which are cases of conversion. Here is an instance by R. Dahl: “the giant is fridging (‘freezing’) with cold.” As is generally the case with literary coinages, such conversions usually violate the blocking principle (also called pre-emption by synonymy). An unnecessary coinage makes it stand out in the text.

76In children’s literature, metaphor (transfer of meaning by analogy between two different domains) or metonymy (transfer of meaning by contiguity) are as common as they would be in any other literary context. In The Poetics of Mind, R.W. Gibbs explains that figurative thought, language and understanding are deeply rooted in human cognition. “Texts are not static containers of meaning but provide the common ground for writer and reader from which meaning may arise” [Gibbs 2002: 73]. R.W. Gibbs [2002: 260] also observes that “Literary metaphors are typically rich in meaning”. Here are instances of occasionalisms from my corpus which are a case of metaphor (20) or metonymy (21):

77In J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, the fairy Tinkerbell speaks a language referred to as tinkle:

(20) The loveliest tinkle as of golden bells answered him. It is the fairy language.

78In J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter, owls are employed by wizards to deliver letters, messages and other items. In several excerpts, owl refers to the message itself:

(21) We await your owl by no later than 31 July. […] He received an urgent owl from the Ministry of Magic and flew off for London at once.

79However, word formations such as (20) and (21) are not detected computationally by my exclusion list, therefore my analysis shows more cases of word de-formations or word creations. With regards to metasemantic processes, potentially, all tropes – figures of speech with an unexpected twist in the meaning of the word – can be added to J. Tournier’s sub-class for the nonce formation of an occasionalism. I am only including here the tropes I encountered in my data of occasionalisms.

80In addition to metaphor and metonymy, here are further instances of metasemy:

81- Figurative meaning / literalisation:
As W.U. Dressler states [1993: 5029], “poets often remotivate words, that is restore the original transparent meaning. This is sometimes called poetic etymology”. For instance, the etymology of
butterfly is from “Old English buttorfleoge, evidently butter (n.) + fly (n.), but of obscure signification” (Etymonline). It gives poetic licence for R. Dahl to coin butteryfly. The adjunction of the suffix -y remotivates the compound butterfly.

82- Euphemism:
It is common in child language to coin a “harmless substitute” as S. Ullmann puts it [1970: 205] to avoid a taboo word. Therefore, it is not surprising that authors will use the same principle to hide offensive language in a children’s book (e.g.
flushbunking for the ‘F-word’ coined by R. Dahl).

83- Paronomasia – also called punning:
It uses phonological deviance to associate homonyms. For example, R. Dahl coins
human bean, an alteration of human being. This is not simply a phonological de-formation. In the book, there is an instance of humans being called half-baked beans. Since the fiction is about giants eating humans, the semantic transfer is obvious. Collocations can also be altered to create a paronomastic occasionalism (e.g. save our solos instead of ‘save our souls’).

  • 18 Coined by Carroll.

84- Simile:
Commonly, language uses similes to describe words through comparison of their sets of meanings. Similes can be metaphorical and sometimes they are lexicalised (e.g. ‘daft as a brush’). In my corpus, I identified similes where the comparison does not clarify the meaning but makes it opaque, either by using nonsensical associations (
Up above the world you fly, Like a tea-tray in the sky18) or by using occasionalisms (Sophie said, “would they really eat me up?” “Like a whiffswiddle!” cried the BFG.) Since tea-trays are not meant to fly and there is no clear referent for the creation whiffswiddle, the similes do not perform their role of enlightening description.

2.2.3. Morphological occasionalisms

  • 19 Statistics available in Tournier [1985] [2007: 312].

85The third category of occasionalisms I describe belongs to morphological neology. In contemporary English, morphological neology refers to clipping, initials and acronyms, which follow the least effort principle and as such are very productive19. In children’s literature, it is the opposite of the least effort principle, as the author will go through great trouble to alter the signifier, usually extending it. Alteration of the signifier

86There are several types of alterations in my data of occasionalisms. They can be categorised as follows:

87- Typographical alteration:
P. Pullman for instance uses symbols (e.g. the diaeresis in
aërodock, aëronaut, and Nälkäinens) and characters (e.g. the ash in dæmon) which are uncommon in English. Such typographic distinction makes it clear that the coinage is not to be mistaken with attested ‘aeronaut’ or ‘demon’ and thus the occasionalism is potentially morphosemantic. When only the spelling is altered, as in R. Dahl’s “your spelling is atroshus”, there is no doubt it is only morphological.

88- Phonological alteration:
There are two types of phonological alteration: eye-dialect and distortion. The respelling of words to show a burlesque pronunciation – also called eye-dialect – results in a morphological nonce formation. This is well illustrated in this excerpt:

(22) ‘Why, a beak’s a madgst’rate; and when you walk by a beak’s order, it’s not straight forerd, but always agoing up, and niver a coming down agin. (C. Dickens, chapter 8).

  • 20 Coined by Dahl.

89Phonological distortion can be a case of mispronunciation for lack of mastering the language (redunculous for ‘ridiculous’, langwitch for ‘language’, gollops for ‘gulps’20) or due to some impairment as shown in the following excerpt:

(23) ‘Dot a shoul,’ replied Barney; whose words: whether they came from the heart or not: made their way through the nose. (C. Dickens, chapter 15).

  • 21 Coined by Carroll.

90- Lexical alteration:
The occasionalism is either due to an unconscious mistake (malapropism, metathesis, slip of the tongue) or a stylistic feature (spoonerism). “The ludicrous misuse of words, especially in mistaking a word for another resembling it” [OED3] called malapropism is likely to lead to wordplay rather than neology:
Laughing and Grief21 (‘Latin and Greek’). Metathesis describes the transposition of phonemes. For instance, Dahl coins squeakpips for ‘pipsqueaks.’ Slip of the tongue generally refers to oral speech production, when someone mistakes one word for another. Then again, the wordplay might not be neological. In literature, it can be found in dialogues:

(24) ‘Your brain is full of rotten-wool.’ ‘You mean cotton-wool.’ (R. Dahl, chapter 8).

  • 22 Coined by Dahl.

91Spoonerism is when the initial consonants have been inverted: catasterous disastrophe for ‘disastrous catastrophe’, bunderbluss for ‘blunderbuss.’ Collocations can also be subject to spoonerism: frack to bunt for ‘back to front’ or jipping and skumping for ‘jumping and skipping’22.

92- Grammatical alteration:
Flouting grammatical conventions is another way to create occasionalisms. I have several examples in my data concerning comparatives and superlatives.

(25) ‘Curiouser and curiouser!’ cried Alice (she was so much surprised, that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English) (L. Carroll, chapter 2).

93According to R. Huddleston & G.K. Pullum [2014: 1584], when the base adjective has more than two syllables, they “normally allow only the analytic forms.” A footnote is added stipulating that “Lewis Carroll’s *curiouser and curiouser, involving a trisyllabic base in -ous, is ungrammatical, and was intended jocularly, or as indicating that his young heroine Alice had not quite grasped the limitations of the inflectional system yet.” However, L. Carroll is not the only author whose characters have not grasped the inflectional system. C. Dickens coined affablest and bare-facedest and J.M. Barrie wonderfuller.

94- Lengthening:
It is a formation process described by D.G. Miller [2014: 161-162] mostly as an expressive variant to express intensity. There are other types of lengthening in my data for the nonce formation of occasionalisms. All the following instances of lengthening are coined by R. Dahl. One or several phonemes can be added to a lexical unit (for that process, the term
epethensis could be used). As in bag(gle)pipes, butter(y)fly, jump(s)y, shoot(l)ing, swig(gle), swim(el)ing, etc. From my data, the most commonly added phoneme in word de-formation is /l/, and it is likely to have a hypocoristic connotation. The insertion of a phoneme can have an impact on the original spelling of the lexical unit: squir(d)le for ‘squirrel’. The insertion of phonemes can make the reading more complex: aer(i)oplanes, rhino(sto)ss(t)erisses, showing that idiosyncrasy can be achieved through the phonological complexity of the occasionalism. A morpheme can also be added to the lexical unit, as in hippo(dumpling)s or ear(wig)s. The added morpheme in the two previous examples is purely recreational and I do not see it as a case of morphosemantic composition. There is an instance of morphological extension in my data where the added morpheme is a case of tmesis (the splitting of a word in autonomous parts by the insertion of a word): scrum(diddly)umptious. Again, the addition of the morpheme diddly bears no semantic charge.

  • 23 With longer phrases such as every then and now for ‘every now and then’ or less or more instead of (...)
  • 24 Coined by Dahl.

95- Word order (anastrophe) and segmentation:
Inverting the word order (a scheme called anastrophe) of a collocation can form a comical phrase which can be considered as a complex occasionalism:
dory-hunky for ‘hunky-dory’23. Segmentation mistakes are common for children during the acquisition of language. Such mistakes are reproduced in children’s literature (e.g. a sistance for ‘assistance’, a norphan and a norphanage for ‘orphan’ and ‘orphanage’24).

96Most of the processes that alter a signifier are stylistic devices, known as schemes. Schemes are figures of speech that deal with word order, syntax, letters and sound, rather than meaning. Reduplication

  • 25 Reduplication is a recognised word formation process in other typologies. See Schmid [2011: 221-222 (...)
  • 26 Coined by Dahl.

97Reduplication25 is only explained by J. Tournier as a minor process [2007: 165] for the word formation of contemporary English, which he includes in sound motivated processes within morphosemantic neology. There are too many instances of reduplication in children’s literature for me not to address this process properly. Furthermore, since instances of reduplication from my data show no change of referent (e.g. crackety-crack, thingalingaling26), I listed reduplication as a case of morphological nonce formation. At the most, reduplication allows new connotations. Reduplication is common in children’s verses where it may be used to benefit the metric pattern. Just as children love to bounce and dance, they enjoy clapping along with nursery rhymes and find pleasure in the reliable beats of the repetitions. This might explain why occasionalisms using reduplication are frequently coined in fictional prose. Reduplication emphasizes rhythm.

98I have identified four types of reduplication: full reduplication and cases where the reduplicant is either in the initial, internal or final position.

  • 27 Coined by Dahl.
  • 28 Coined by Tolkien.
  • 29 Coined by Lewis.
  • 30 Coined by Dahl.
  • 31 Coined by Dahl.
  • 32 Coined by Tolkien.

99- Full reduplication:
It is a nonce formation where the occasionalism is repeated twice or more:
boom-boom-boom27, clink-clink28, drip-drip-drip29, etc. The full reduplicant can be part of a compound: clumpety-clumpety-clump30, telly-telly bunkum box31, drip-drip-dripping32.

  • 33 Coined by Dahl.
  • 34 Coined by Dahl.
  • 35 Coined by Dahl.
  • 36 Coined by Dahl.
  • 37 Coined by Dahl.

100- Alliterative reduplication (or reverse rhyme):
This is the nonce formation of a compound with an initial reduplicant. Alliterative compounds do not always occur in consecutive order (
ruggy little runt, shrivelly little shrimp33). Alliterative compounds can be randomly juxtaposed (whiffswiddle, pigspiffle34), hyphenated (crackety-crack, squiff-squiddled35) or separated by a typographic blank (squinky squiddler36). Both stems can be coined (grueful gruncious37) though most of the time, the compound is formed with one established stem.

  • 38 Coined by Dahl.

101- Rhyme reduplication:
It has the same characteristics as alliterative reduplication but with a final reduplicant:
thingalingaling, ucky-mucky, piggery-jokery38.

  • 39 Coined by Dahl.
  • 40 Example from Tolkien.
  • 41 Example from Stevenson.

102- There are two types of reduplication using an internal reduplicant: occasionalisms formed with assonances (wispy-misty, buzzy-hum, swizzfiggling39) or ablaut reduplication.
Ablaut reduplication abides by certain rules. For two-word combinations, the stressed vowels consecutive order is <i> + <a> or <i> + <o>. For three-word combinations, the stressed vowels consecutive order is <i> + <a> + <o>. The examples from my corpus are attested (e.g. ‘flip-flapping’
40, ‘shipshape’41) and ablaut reduplication is perhaps more common in nursery rhymes or in poetry for young children. Here is an example by S. Milligan [1999: 190] entitled Fiddle faddle. Even though the text is not part of my corpus, it is a good example of the nonce formation of ablaut-motivated and rhyme-motivated compounds.

Fiddle Faddle
Fish fash
Flip flap flop
Diddle daddle
Dish dash
Clip clap clop
Fiddle diddle
Fish dish
Dish dash doo
Piddle didlle
Pish dish
Bim bam boom.

2.2.4. Combined processes

103I have endeavoured to find prototypical occurrences for each of the described processes. However, nonce formation processes are often combined with one another.

104I will illustrate the complexity of such processes through an example:

(26) “They would be putting me in a zoo or the bunkumhouse with all those squiggling hippodumplings and crockadowndillies.” (R. Dahl, chapter 7).

105‘Hippo’ is an attested apocope (also called back-clipping). ‘Dumpling’ is figuratively used to describe a small, fat person. It could be argued that hippodumpling is either a compound or an extended lexeme (resulting from a lengthening process through the addition of a morpheme). ‘Bunkhouse’ is also extended into bunkumhouse. Since there is a common element between ‘bunkhouse’ and ‘bunkum’ it could be either a blend [(bunk)um x (bunk)house] or an extended lexeme. ‘Crocodiles’ are transformed into crockadowndillies. The extension of crocodiles is more complex. Crockadowndillies in the excerpt are clearly animals resembling crocodiles, though they are linked with ‘crack of dawn.’ As for ‘dillies’, the author is unlikely to refer to the American lexeme. In my opinion, ‘dillies’ is a hypocoristic y-suffixed form of ‘crocodile’. The occasionalism can be considered either as a case of complex construction (blend + affix + metaphor) or simply as an extended lexeme. In all three occasionalisms from (26), I do not believe that there is any semantic charge added to the coinages. At the most they allow new connotations, therefore, in my opinion, they are morphological occasionalisms formed through a lengthening process.

106The typology of occasionalisms presented in this section follows J. Tournier’s matrices. The occurrences of nonce formation in this corpus are of two types: playing with the word-formation process itself or using a stylistic device to create the idiosyncrasy. Occasionalisms often combine several of these processes. Prototypically, there is one (or several) attested word(s) or phrase(s) for each coinage, reinforcing the playfulness of the occasionalism.


107Coinages in literature are not meant to fill a lexical gap and enrich the lexicon but to enrich the text itself, thus they are referred to as occasionalisms – a type of nonce word – and not neologisms. A textual analysis of occasionalisms in children’s literature has enabled me to describe three types of nonce formation: word formation (from existing morphological material), word de-formation (of existing lexical units and phrases) and word creation (from scratch). The formation processes are both lexicological (as described in J. Tournier’s sub-classes) and stylistic (schemes and tropes). Thus, I consider that there is no limit to lexical creation and deviation in children’s literature.

108In children’s literature where the fantasy and nonsense genres are prominent, it is standard practice to create occasionalisms to name entities which have no existence in the real world. The power of words in concept formation (hypostatisation) explains the overwhelming presence of coinages in fantasy-driven contexts. However, an occasionalism does not necessarily have a clear referent in the extralinguistic world. Another primary function of coinages in children’s literature is to stand out in the text. As attention-seeking devices (ASDs), they tend not to follow the least-effort principle, forcing the reader to decipher opaque occasionalisms. Words are coined to humorously stand out in an utterance. The playful impulse is the primary purpose of such lexical creations. The idiosyncrasy of occasionalisms, often long words with a puzzling pronunciation, always creates an effect on the reader/listener. It is the magic formula of words empowered by their complexity.

109D. Crystal argues that “linguistic intuitions are more attuned to strangeness than we imagine” [1990: 24]. In deciphering occasionalisms, a reader/listener experiences the flexibility of language and how it can be indefinitely remodelled.

110The function/effect of occasionalisms is crucial and a clear referent to the signifier is secondary to this function. The effect is always based on idiosyncrasy. The reader/listener can then be surprised, amused, or just enjoy the pleasure of poetic sounds.

111Children’s literature, where nonsense and fantasy roams free is the perfect background to playful lexical creations and recreation.

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3 Ranking at FNAC in 2018.

4 e.g. the villainous Jew representation in Oliver Twist.

5 Wordlist of 58,000 words available online:


7 Coined by Dahl.

8 Coined by Dahl.

9 Coined by Dahl.

10 Schnozz is a slang term for nose.

11 Leech & Short [2007: 22-23] present a classification of novelists by A. Burgess who identifies two types. A “Class 1” novelist “whose work language is a zero quality, transparent, unseductive, the overtones of connotation and ambiguity totally damped;” and a “Class 2” novelist for whom “ambiguities, puns and centrifugal connotations are to be enjoyed rather than regretted, and whose books, made out of words as much as characters and incidents, lose a great deal when adapted to a visual medium”.

12 Coined by Dahl.

13 Coined by Carroll.

14 Coined by Kipling.


16 “Back-formation is the formation of a word by the deletion of material which either is or appears to be an affix.” Bauer [2004: 21].

17 Kidsnatched is probably a blend of kidnapped and cradle snatched.

18 Coined by Carroll.

19 Statistics available in Tournier [1985] [2007: 312].

20 Coined by Dahl.

21 Coined by Carroll.

22 Coined by Dahl.

23 With longer phrases such as every then and now for ‘every now and then’ or less or more instead of ‘more or less’ the analysis level is probably less lexical and more syntactic (examples coined by Dahl).

24 Coined by Dahl.

25 Reduplication is a recognised word formation process in other typologies. See Schmid [2011: 221-222] where reduplication is listed as a non-morphemic word formation process.

26 Coined by Dahl.

27 Coined by Dahl.

28 Coined by Tolkien.

29 Coined by Lewis.

30 Coined by Dahl.

31 Coined by Dahl.

32 Coined by Tolkien.

33 Coined by Dahl.

34 Coined by Dahl.

35 Coined by Dahl.

36 Coined by Dahl.

37 Coined by Dahl.

38 Coined by Dahl.

39 Coined by Dahl.

40 Example from Tolkien.

41 Example from Stevenson.

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Electronic reference

Cécile Poix, Neology in children’s literature: A typology of occasionalismsLexis [Online], 12 | 2018, Online since 14 December 2018, connection on 29 February 2024. URL:; DOI:

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The text only may be used under licence CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. All other elements (illustrations, imported files) are “All rights reserved”, unless otherwise stated.

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