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A Little Nonsense in A Little Cup

Updated: May 11, 2022

You may not realise that the inspiration behind the name ‘A Little Cup’ is a Roald Dahl quote from Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory:

“A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men” (Although we have paraphrased it to say “...relished by our wisest friends”) - much more inclusive!

This quote sums up A Little Cup’s approach to creativity and community engagement. In essence, Dahl’s suggestion is that nonsense; playfulness; imagination; creativity is something to be prized even within the most wise, sensible and adult amongst us. It emphasises the need to have a break and use creativity as a source of inspiration. We think this writer has the right idea! When we run ‘taste and create’ workshops, the emphasis is on using our imaginations and listening to our bodies in response to flavours in tea. We encourage conversation, exploration and drawing as a way of analysing how flavours (and the environment in which we are tasting these flavours) make us feel. It may seem like nonsense, but is actually quite an interesting and intuitive way of thinking about how we function.

There is a lot of stigma around creative exploration as it encourages a fantasy of sorts that takes us away from the practicalities and seriousness of real life. These attitudes happen to forget the necessity of its function in getting us through the day - ‘nonsense’ (in this sense) allows a time for rest, calm and joy in a busy world; it gives us time to be ambitious in allowing us thoughts of a (possibly) more exciting way to live. Don’t get us wrong - the suggestion is not to live in a world of complete nonsense, but enough to satisfy our occasional childish itch.

Roald Dahl has a very unique way of looking at language and communication in an arguably nonsensical way. Not only is this used within his writing, but there is also an entire dictionary dedicated to the language of Roald Dahl. We, however, are especially keen on his creative twist on language - a form of communication known as gobblefunk: “you may hear the word gobblefunk used as a noun, to mean all the marvellous words that Roald Dahl invented for his stories” (Oxford Roald Dahl Dictionary (2016)). Gobblefunk is referred to in the Oxford Roald Dahl Dictionary as follows:

“If you gobblefunk with words, you play around with them and invent new words or meanings”... “Roald Dahl made up the word gobblefunk, but he may have wanted it to sound like gobbledegook, a kind of language that grown-ups use that is full of meaningless words and is hard to understand.”

We can safely assume here that gobblefunk is a good example of nonsense, and it is referenced and relied on often by adults? However, Nonsense itself, in the case of the Oxford Roald Dahl Dictionary is described as “something that does not make sense (and therefore seems silly to grown-ups), but is often fun in any case” - the suggestion being that adults are not ready for nonsensical behaviour.

We would argue that the two correlate: nonsense = gobblefunk; gobblefunk = adults’ made up speech; therefore nonsense = adults’ secret language. This seems reasonable - adults need occasional nonsense, but they feel the need to hide it. It is not adult to speak gobbledegook, but it is necessary for their function. And this is why, as Dahl references, nonsense is relished (even by the wisest of us).

We work with both adults and children at A Little Cup and have seen a vast difference in attitude when approaching the creative tasks within our workshops. We often use artwork made by younger participants as references in our sessions to encourage a freedom of expression, as we believe wholly in the value of communication in younger people (and the intelligence behind it) as an effective learning tool.

Author and poet Michael Rosen hosts a BBC Radio 4 show called Word of Mouth, which explores the world of words and the ways in which we use them. A particular favourite episode of ours, titled ‘Snortils and Jumpolines: Kids’ Invented Words’ explores the value of children’s language and the intelligence behind what they make up. Guests sociolinguist Dr Laura Wright, writer Nicola Skinner and linguist Kriszta Szendroi discuss the brilliant made up words of children - our favourites being:

  • ‘Oopsaglue’ for superglue

  • ‘Spaghetti Carbananas’ (you can guess this one!)

  • ‘Snotrils’ for nostrils - so good it’s mentioned in the title.

Wright, Skinner and Szendroi analyse how these words may come to be and the logic behind them. Szendroi explains how children at a certain age “start to mimic the grown ups around them” even adopting adult phrases like “first of all,”' or in their case, “Firstaball!” The Pattern behind this is two fold; they find similarities between the words they make up and the words they hear - by referencing their bank of words that sound similar to the original, ie ‘carbananas’ for carbonara. They will also have known words activated in their minds that relate to the first sound of a word they are hearing. Szendroi’s example is hearing the word “logs” and how that will initially activate all the previously learned words that start with “lo…”. All three guests agree that there is intelligence behind this, and collectively conclude that instead of continually correcting children’s speech, children should be celebrated for attempting to find logical patterns. This is, however, caviated with the appreciation that eventually these habits will reduce as their language and learning develops and therefore there is no harm in allowing some nonsense: “It will be fine until they learn the proper word!”

When it comes to more nonsensical language associations, Nicola Skinner describes how she has been “stunned by how inventive the children were being” and concludes their behaviour even as “quite anarchic!” These words can be termed ‘sniglets’ - a word created where there isn’t one where there really should be one… which reminds us of Gobblefunk! There is a huge amount of intelligence behind Gobblefunk because of its onomatopoeic, relatable nature - it may be nonsense, but if children can understand and find joy in its hidden meanings, that, to us, is blooming clever!

We at A Little Cup will forever encourage play, imagination and nonsense and teach it as a useful and educational tool… and if you can do it with a cuppa, all the better!

Allow yourself a little nonsense and a little cup every day.

Love + Tea x

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