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To move in a clumsy, ponderous, or noisy manner; possibly a combination of “gallop” and “triumph.” – current definition

Right in Almanzo’s face were flying hoofs and swishing tails, and close overhead were galumphing hindquarters. – Farmer Boy, Chapter 9, “Breaking the Calves”

In Farmer Boy (Chapter 9, “Breaking the Calves”), Laura Ingalls Wilder describes the oxen running away with the sled on which Almanzo, Louis, and Pierre are sitting. It’s a storm of flying hoofs and swishing tails, bounces in the air and teeth-crashing jolts back to earth, while “close over head were galumphing hindquarters” of the oxen.

The word galumphing first appears in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, published in 1871. Through the Looking Glass is the sequel to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, published in 1865.

You’ll find the word in the fifth verse of the “Jabberwocky” poem:

     One, two! One, two! And through and through
     The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
     He left it dead, and with its head
     He went galumphing back.

You can Google the rest. As Alice (in Wonderland, not Wilder or Ingalls) said, the poem is “very pretty, but it’s rather hard to understand.” The meaning of many of the words are explained later in the book, but galumphing isn’t.

In 1932, Carroll’s nephew, B.J. Cunningham, defined galumphing to a group of club women as “what Lewis Carroll would have called his ten to twenty mile hiking about the English countryside.” — B.J. Cunningham, Oak Leaves (December 16, 1932), 4. The word today is defined as meaning to move in a clumsy, ponderous, or noisy manner, and it’s certainly appropriately used in Farmer Boy. Some suggest it is a combination of “gallop” and “triumph.”

Galumphing? Is this a word that belongs in Farmer Boy? In the story, fictional Almanzo has just celebrated his ninth birthday. Born in February 1857, Almanzo Wilder turned nine in 1866. It’s remotely possible that the Wilder family read Alice, but Looking Glass – and galumphing – should not have been familiar to nine-year-old Almanzo. Laura, writing about Almanzo’s boyhood from the 1930s, would of course have been familiar with the works of Lewis Carroll, but the word galumphing always seemed a little out of place in the story, to me.


galumphing (FB 9)