Saturday, 3 October 2015

A is for Acorn, B is for Badger, C is for Conker…

OJDThere was a lot of fuss [and rightly so, imho] earlier this year, about changes to the Oxford Junior Dictionary. Around 400 words related to nature were omitted, including acorn, adder, ash, beech, bluebell, buttercup, catkin, conker, cowslip, cygnet, dandelion, fern, hazel, heather, heron, ivy, kingfisher, lark, mistletoe, nectar, newt, otter, pasture, willow [and even almond!] The humble blackberry was replaced by Blackberry [TM].


For years, I have taught in schools where most classrooms have had a copy or two of this book on the shelf – and half a dozen more in the school library. Various wordsmiths – including Michael Morpurgo, Margaret Attwood and Andrew Motion, lamented the departure of these words. As well as nature words, others have gone which relate to traditional British tradition and culture. Oxford Dictionaries say there isn’t room for the ‘archaic’ words when there are so many new ones to put in – but this seems to contradict their logo [below]. Do we really need to remove bishop and monarchy to make room for blog and broadband? Or conker for cut-and-paste?

OED logo


Along my cycle route to church this week, I saw acorns and pinecones lying on the verge, and school- children collecting them, and also looking up at the horse chestnut trees about to drop their conkers.

Kingfisher_by_Jack_3449432cBut this week, news comes that someone has taken action to keep these words somewhere special for children to learn and appreciate them. Robert MacFarlane, a gifted writer, who is passionate about ‘land language’ [read his fabulous article from the Guardian] has produced his first book for children which features flora and fauna language which is falling out of use. Jackie Morris has worked with him to illustrate the book.

The book is intended to counter an obsession with technology, the indoor lifestyle, and the fashion for "urban dystopia" in children's literature and films like The Hunger Games.


Macfarlane says “The deletion of these vital words from the OJD isn’t the dictionary’s fault -- but our own for failing to use them.

“Technology is miraculous – but so is nature, and Jackie and I wanted to find a way to release these simple wonder-words back into their stories and their dreams.”

robert macfarlaneThe Lost Words: A Spell-Book will be published by Hamish Hamilton in Spring 2017. That seems like ages – but I think this is one which will be worth waiting for!


  1. Why take word out of a dictionary. The words still exist therefore should remain and new words added periodically. Rant over. Looking forward to seeing the new book - The Lost Words. Maybe this will get updated periodically.

  2. I think every child should read that book, adults too, actually. Our language has become so sloppy, which is very sad.

  3. I want that book. I hope I'll be able to find it when it comes out in the UK. So far, our Amazon does not even have it for pre-order.
    I think it's scary that "nature" has become obsolete. Yikes! Today when James comes over I am going to give him a basket and we are going leaf picking.

  4. Disgraceful!!!! I shall make sure I introduce one of those every Singing Assembly so our children know the. X


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