A is for Acorn, Not Analog – Nature Words Gone From a Dictionary

By Linda Wiggen Kraft

Imagine our world with no acorns, apricots, blackberries, clover, crocus, ivy, mint, nectar, ravens, tulips, violets or wrens. These are just some of the words that the publishers of the 10,000 word Oxford Junior Dictionary, for seven year olds, deleted from its most recent publication. The editors at Oxford University Press claimed that the nature words were eliminated because they needed to be replaced with words that were “designed to reflect language as it is used”. Some of the replacement words were: voicemail, data base, chat room, cut and paste, broadband and analog.

I first heard the list of deleted words* from eco-warrior and writer Terry Tempest Williams when she spoke here in July. A silent gasp filled the air as the audience felt the horror of depriving children the knowledge and wonder of our living earth. What happens when words go extinct? Is that the first step in how we let the actual animate and inanimate creatures disappear forever?

When it became known that these words would be eliminated, there was an outcry by twenty-eight authors including Margaret Atwood who sent a signed a letter to the editors and publisher of the dictionary. The letter said that the omission of nature words was “shocking and poorly considered”. The publishers did not reconsider and sent the book to print without the words reinstated. One British nature writer, Robert Macfarlane who signed the letter, stated: “We do not care for what we do not know, and on the whole we do not know what we cannot name… The right names, well used, can act as portals into the more-than-human world of bird, animal, tree and insect. Good names open on to mystery, grow knowledge and summon wonder. And wonder is an essential survival skill.”

A study done by Cambridge University and published in Science, tested four to eleven years olds on their recognition of Pokémon “species” as compared to common natural species of plants or wildlife. Eight year olds, and older, identified 80% of the Pokémon characters and less than 50% of the natural species. The authors of the paper stated the need, “to re-establish children’s links with nature if we are to win over the hearts and minds of the next generation …we love what we know … What is the extinction of the condor to a child who has never seen a wren”?

In response to the eliminated words in the Oxford Junior Dictionary, Robert Macfarlane wrote poems, spells and charms for a book titled The Lost Words, just published in early October 2017. Children’s book illustrator Jackie Morris created beautiful large watercolors. Words and images give life to many of the lost words of the dictionary. It is a large (almost 11 x 15 inches) 128 page coffee table book for adults and children. It is a book for every home, school, and public library. More important than a book though, is spending time in nature with children learning about and connecting with all the known and lost words and wonders of nature.

*The words eliminated in the latest Oxford Junior Dictionary, published in 2012: acorn, almond, apricot, ash, beech, blackberry, bloom, bramble, buttercup, carnation, cauliflower, cheetah, clover, colt, crocus, dandelion, fern, ferret, fungus, gooseberry, goldfish, herring, ivy, mint, monarch, minnow, nectar, otter, oyster, panther, pelican, porcupine, porpoise, pasture, primrose, raven, thrush, tulip, violet, willow, weasel, wren.

Linda Wiggen Kraft is a landscape designer who creates holistic and organic gardens. She is also a mandala artist and workshop leader. Visit her blog: www.CreativityForTheSoul.com/blog or her website: www.CreativityForTheSoul.com. Call her at (314) 504-4266.