Wednesday, December 17

nature words extinct

I was going to blog about something entirely different but then I read about the following and just had to post about it.

You've heard of the Oxford Junior Dictionary right? Well, like all dictionaries, it is updated to include new words or changing definitions. Including slang words is common practice. Afterall, a dictionary isn't a collection for elitist word lovers. It's a mirror of our society.

But when contemporary words replace perfectly good words, and worse, words referring to nature, then what does that say about our society?

Oxford University Press has cut terms such as heron, budgerigar, doe, magpie, otter, acorn, clover, ivy, goldfish, piglet, beetroot, sycamore, willow, almond, panther, porcupine, raven, newt, carnation, leopard, melon, rhubarb, and blackberry.
How's this for a slap in the face? The electronic Blackberry was inserted instead. Other words they included were; blog, MP3 player, voicemail, broadband, as well as vandalism, allergic, curriculum, and celebrity.

There is something about this that makes me feel so sad.

From the criteria they use to select words, one is which words are commonly misspelled. Oh! That makes sense now. I can see how blog is so much more difficult than budgerigar.

And you notice something else? A favouring of abstract concepts over terms reflecting the tangible environment. You see it? An outdoor life touching, sensing, moving, jumping, catching, frolicking, towards an indoor life of entire worlds exiting in a digital box. Where goes the simple life for our children?

"This dictionary is not designed for children to use as they progress higher up the school years, and should be regarded as an introduction to language and the practice of using dictionaries," said a statement from OUP.

I'm glad about that. I was concerned it was in the dictionaries for older kids too. It's good to know that it's to introduce the language world to our children. It's quite important they know the term broadband early.

I conservationist and advocate for nature connection claimed,
"If you can't name things, how can you love them?"

I don't agree with that statement. Things are before we name them, and often a deeper connection can be formed if language is kept at bay. But that aside, dictionaries are a source of learning for most children and excluding terms of nature does not help to support a link to nature.

Do you feel this issue is important? Does it matter that much what goes into a dictionary? Or are kids going to learn terms anyway? Is it a matter of principle? Who would remove such a cool word as newt?


  1. In some ways, there's no easy answer. If one is connected to nature without nameing it, then words included or excluded from Oxford shouldnt matter. Yet, it is used as a yardstick for 'what matters', I do feel its a crying shame to remove words though. Perhaps there should be 'subset' dictionaries.

  2. Yeah, that seems silly.

    I will say that my kids learn much much more via Wikipedia than any printed dictionary nowadays. They learn the name, the latin, history, information and links to photos or websites about the topic. I love the printed word, but kind of going the way of the dinosaur, and if things like casual slang gets put in, but words like newt are out, then they are fairly useless!

  3. I do find that sad. Not so much that the words were removed, but what it says about our society. My sister and I were lucky enough to get to spend time with someone truly knowledgeable in identifying plants and animals when we were young, and to spend several weeks a year at the home of my great-grandmother where we could explore the huge forest behind her house. We both still remember much of that, and I've learned to identify lots of common household herbs as well. But it amazes me how ignorant of nature my peers are! My sister and I are the only teens I know who can identify poison ivy, and that one's easy! Instead, when in the woods, my friends panic every few minutes thinking they've spotted it, only to find out it's just a blueberry plant. *Sighs*

  4. Mon. When I was a kid I lived in Montana. And when I moved to California as a teen, it was a culture shock with all the slang. I was a word purist and HATED slang. Burroughs and ebonics and spelling words incorrectly (like Kool-Aid), that kind of thing made me kringe (hee-hee!). Now I realize that language does change. It's just sad to see the way it evolves (or devolves in this case). Replacing the succulent blackberry with the Blackberry device! I'm surprised at Oxford. They have made a name for themselves as word historians. Have you read The Professor and the Madman (the biography of a contributor of the Oxford English Dictionary)? Hey, I posted a poem about blackberries on my blog for YOU!

  5. While I agree that learning about the natural world is far more important than learning about technology for the young child, I don't think a dictionary is a crucial item either. My kids can identify lots of plants and animals because we have seen them in real life, and I'm not overly concerned about them spelling them right at this point.

    It's funny: when we lived in Sacramento, my kids would have seen things like herons, does, magpies, acorns, clover, ivy, beetroots, sycamores, willows, almonds, melons, rhubarb, and blackberries almost on a daily basis. In New York they learned about poison ivy, stinging nettle, groundhogs, cardinals,maple wings, termites, muskrats, hickory nuts, and wild turkeys! It's too soon to tell what they'll learn about here in Idaho, but so far they've learned a lot more about snow and pine cones.

    But then, I may not have to worry about my kids learning about nature, but what about all the others who live in cities or spend their leisure hours in front of a screen? What about things that are part of nature in other places, like alligators or reindeer moss or scarab beetles, that most kids will never get to see in person? What about those kids who never get to play in the mud or find a snake or make a snow fort?

  6. Visiting from SITS.
    Hooray for baby wearing! I wear my 4 1/2 month old all the time.

  7. I was reading about this recently too. It does sadden me a little that these nature words are being excluded. Probably more because I am a nature lover and want to know and share all I can about it. However, I don't know that the Oxford Junior Dictionary is significant enough for me to get too upset about it. As Denise said, we use Wikipedia more than anything else, and those words are all still there (yes, I checked hehehe). As for Bateman's quote, I do not totally agree with it either. You do not have to know the actual name of something to love it. The way I took that quote (and I don't know if this is what he meant or not), but part of the joy in loving something is sharing it with others. Talking about it and discussing it. If you don't know the name then it makes it difficult to share. And to protect, as so much of nature needs right now. Protection. Anyway, it is sad that people seem to be distancing themselves from nature in so many ways. This seems to be just one more.

  8. As a kid I used to read the dictionary for fun (nerdy, I know ;) It's so sad that they've removed all those words, especially since so many kids nowadays are so completely disconnected from the "real" world. So much time is spent playing video games, watching TV, or in front of the computer (writes the blogging mom ;) that many kids never even notice the natural world around them. Of course, many of them would never pick up a dictionary, either, preferring to Google whatever they were interested in, so I'm not sure the kids will even notice the omission.

  9. Holy Crap...this post sums up a good portion of my rational for leaving my career as a teacher. After 13 years of teaching English I could no longer endure (among many other things) the fact that kids had no vocabulary, no means of expressing themselves beyond the briefest and most inane sentences....besides which they didn't care to express themselves. Their imaginations were dead and if they had ever possessed a child-like wonder at the world around them it was squashed sometime long before they got to me. I tried and tried and finally my heart was too broken and I couldn't do it anymore. Thanks for sharing!


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