• 3-minute read
  • 18th January 2020

A Bear of Very Many Words: Winnie-the-Pooh in the Dictionary

Did you know that today, 18 January, was author A. A. Milne’s birthday? To mark this, people around the world are celebrating Milne’s much-loved creation, Winnie-the-Pooh. And for Winnie-the-Pooh Day this year, we thought we’d take a quick look at the language of Pooh.

But what can a bear of very little brain offer the English language? If we look at the OED, you might notice Pooh and his friends pop up a few times…

1. Pooh-Sticks

Perhaps the most obvious bit of Pooh in the dictionary comes with pooh-sticks. This is the game that Pooh and his friends play by dropping sticks into a river on the upstream side of a bridge. The contestants then rush to the other side, with the winner the person whose stick emerges first.

This might not sound like a competitive sport, but the annual World Poohsticks Championships have been taking place in Oxfordshire, England for more than 35 years now. That makes it a proper sport for us!

Pooh-sticks in action.
Pooh-sticks in action.
(Photo: Malc McDonald)

2. Eeyore and Tigger

Among Pooh’s friends in the Hundred Acre Wood, Eeyore and Tigger stand out for their contributions to the English language. Eeyore, the downbeat donkey, appears in the OED as a term for a ‘pessimistic, gloomy, or habitually disconsolate person’ (or you can use the adjective ‘Eeyore-like’, if you prefer).

A Tigger, on the other hand, is defined as an ‘exuberant, energetic, and cheerful person’. The famously bouncy tiger has also inspired two adjectives: Tiggerish and Tigger-like. It seems, then, that Pooh has given us terms for people of very different temperaments!

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3. Heffalumps and Woozles

In Pooh’s world, heffalumps and woozles are (possibly imaginary) creatures that steal honey. And since Pooh is really, truly very fond of honey, he has to be wary of these sneaky beasts!

The words ‘heffalump’ and ‘woozle’, and the creatures’ appearances, are based on the words ‘elephant’ and ‘weasel’, respectively. But outside Milne’s writing, heffalump has become a playful word for real-life elephants (or sometimes, less politely, larger human beings).

Sadly, the word ‘woozle’ hasn’t yet made it into the dictionary. However, it has inspired the term ‘woozle effect’. This is based on the story of Pooh and Piglet mistaking their own footprints for those of a woozle, then chasing themselves in circles in a hunt for something that doesn’t exist.

In the real world, the ‘woozle effect’ occurs when a misleading or unsubstantiated idea is repeated and republished often enough that people start believing it (or chasing their own footprints, so to speak). So while ‘woozle’ isn’t in the dictionary yet, it still might appear there one day!

Pooh and friends.
Pooh and friends.

We hope you’ve enjoyed our little tour of the language of Winnie-the-Pooh here. And if you have any documents that need proofreading, don’t forget to have it checked by our expert editors (rather than a woozle).

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