Monday, February 02, 2009

Words and Nature

As an English teacher, I admit to having a love of words.  I am not as big a logophile as some of my friends and colleagues (here's looking at you Macy Swain).  I also love nature, am an environmentalist, and I would spend most days outdoors if I could.  So, I was a bit surprised when I stumbled across this on the intertubes tonight.  

The Oxford Junior Dictionary has decided to remove words like dandelion, acorn, and beaver in place of words like broadband, because it seems these words are more likely to be used by youngsters (the dictionary is for children 7-9 years old).  It saddens me to think that we expect children to need to know broadband before beaver.  

Naturalists shouldn't feel singled out, though.  Christians appear to be under attack as well.  Also removed from the dictionary are the words: nun, saint, and psalm.  Where is Bill O'Reilly when we need him?  

I understand that dictionaries can't include everything, so someone will be unhappy with the words removed.  Maybe I'm bothered by the larger implications of the relationship between nature and technology.  Maybe I'm concerned that kids don't get outside enough and eat dirt to develop immunities and resistance to illness.  Maybe I'm distress by the disappearance of the acorn.  I've often told my students that dictionaries are poor sources of definitions for words.  They are static representations of what words meant in the past, often not representing what words have come to mean, or to capture the social meanings that don't fit into the staid explanations that are used in dictionaries.  If I get on a role, I bring in issues of signifiers and the signified, talking about deconstruction without always cuing the students.  So, should I care what a dictionary includes or how it is included?  Should I lament what has already come to pass?  Should I ignore it and not worry since the tech-savvy 7-9 year olds probably use online dictionaries that allow them to find the words they want anyway?

Whatever the answers to these questions, the Oxford Junior Dictionary story caught my attention and has me wondering what the implications might be.  

1 comment:

Barbara said...

So true and so sad....funny you should mention beaver. We have one or more at our lake house that has taken down Roy's cypress trees.
Saturday he planeted 2 15ft trees and wrapped chicken wire about 4 feet up trunk until he could finish protectors...sorry point was.... a young boy visiting down the street, didn't know what a beaver was. Roy was shocked. He is a outdoors man.
Life moves to fast today.