I didn't even want to run it past 'Oompa-Loompa', which is a word that R. uncovered in a transcript of hers. What word is this, she asked in the tone of someone who has somehow missed out on seeing a movie that traumatised generations of children. What does it mean? How do you even spell it?
Ever being the one to pursue tiny matters such as this with a ferocious pedanticism (the stakes are so low!), I leapt onto the computer to pursue this matter. Just how do you spell 'Oompa-Loompa'?
Wikipedia gives 'Oompa-Loompa', a hyphenated word. It explains that 'They come from Loompaland, which is a region of Loompa, a small isolated island situated in the Pacific Ocean.' (Wikipedia sources this information, presumably, from Roald Dahl's books Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, or Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator.)
The website Roald Dahl Fans uses the spelling 'Oompa-Loompa' consistently. However, one source linked on the Wikipedia page (on Oompa-Loompa economics) omits the hyphen from the name. It also says -
Wonka answers... the Oompa Loompas, he explains, come from a far off place called “Lumpaland”, where, because of their diminutive size, they were in constant danger of being gobbled up by assorted “fierce creatures.” And so, in what he would have us believe was an altruistic gesture, he “freed” them from their native land and had them brought to his factory in the “greatest of secrecy,” where they could live in “peace and safety”...and become his new source of labor.
Most other websites seem to conform to the spelling 'Oompa-Loompa', including the IMDB page for the latest film. But I still wonder... considering their origin in 'Loompaland' or 'Lumpaland', why are they not simply called 'Loompalanders', 'Loompalians', or 'Loompans'? Where did the 'Oompa' come from? Is the whole a native Loompaland name or pronoun? The hyphen implies that they are two unrelated words that have been brought into relationship with one another, and while the origin of 'Loompa' is fairly clear, the beginnings of 'Oompa' are less so. If the Oompa-Loompas are indeed non-English speaking, then they certainly have adapted marvellously to the English language.)
Also: should Oompa-Loompa be capitalised? I think this depends on whether the Oompa-Loompas are a nationality or simply a community, a race of men, or a separate species altogether. In all but the last example the name would be capitalised (ie, we capitalise 'Welsh', 'British', or 'Anglo-Saxon', but don't always capitalise 'human' or 'dog').
I suppose I should just open a copy of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but I don't have it handy - and I don't think Mum would take kindly to me calling her on the abstruse matter of the correct spelling of fictional creatures' names. The Roald Dahl website, also, seems to be no help. Besides, it's not clear why we should trust Roald Dahl anyway: he made the Oompa-Loompas up, true, but why does this mean that he got the spelling right? Their history and geography and origins of the Oompa-Loompas may have been entirely fictional, but that's no excuse. The spelling of made up words about fictional characters is a problem that is so specific precisely because it is so abstract, and so abstract precisely because it is so specific. Or, to put it another way: maybe Dahl made a mistake when he first wrote the name down, and just consistently followed the mistake thereafter. You don't have any way of telling!
NEXT WEEK: "Just what the hell should my being a fictional creation have anything to do with my entry into politics?" An exclusive interview with the Jabberwock on his joining the Socialist Alliance.