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Nature Words Dropped From Children's Dictionary

“Humans seldom value what they cannot name.”   -Elaine Brooks

To make way for modern tech terms such as BlackBerry, blog, voicemail and broadband, the latest edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary has opted to drop terms pertaining to nature.  No longer can a child check this dictionary and learn more about the blackberry, dandelion, acorn, heron, otter, magpie, sycamore, or willow.


Why were these words deemed expendable? A statement from the Oxford University Press clarifies: 

the 10,000 words and phrases in the junior dictionary were selected using several criteria, including how often words would be used by young children.

I’m sorry, maybe I’m missing something here…but which word does your child use more? Broadband…. or dandelion?

As a  self-proclaimed word nerd, I am outraged.

To learn something’s name is to make it your own, to give it a place in your mental library. There is a world of difference between knowing that birds exist, and knowing their names: chickadee, towhee, titmouse, jay. Heron, magpie.  Knowing the names, learning the distinctions, gives clarity and nuance; life and personality.

You cannot love a thing until you know it, and when you know it you call it by name.  It belongs to you.

While I can understand adding technology words into the dictionary, I cannot understand taking nature words out, devaluing their relative importance.  Studies already show that children can name more Pokemon than wildlife species.  They need more accessibility to nature names, not less. 

The Oxford University Press claims that it has removed these nature words because they are less relevant to today’s plugged-in child. So our role as parents is clear: we need to make these words once again relevant to our children. We need to give children enough time and solitude in nature to experience the sacred quiet that nature affords. We need to travel to see the marvelous diversity and majesty of nature, but also find the commonplace wonders in our backyards- like dandelions. We need to teach our children the names, the distinctions. We can involve them in programs like birdcounts and spider webwatches that authenticate this learning.  We can set up bird feeders and go on hikes.  We can experience, observe, and call all the species by name.

We can make a wish and scatter dandelion seeds.  And maybe then they’ll put dandelion back in the dictionary.

What do you think?  Is it valid in today’s world to favor BlackBerry over blackberry?

Photo Credit: boyghost under Creative Commons


  1. I am rendered speechless…. or even incapable of typing by the enormity of how wrong this is.

    A blackberry is a small black fruit that bursts with sweetness on a tongue and no child should be considering it an electronic hand held device instead.

  2. I am totally stunned by this. I mean, it makes me not want to use the OED. I will have to invest in a good nature dictionary for my kid – he will use that over a technology dictionary any day.

  3. As an editor, I am utterly lost for words and outraged, like Mz. Elton, that such a prestigious university publishing press like Oxford is taking such a illogical and poorly thought-out measures to accommodate everyday technology words that any child will immediately pick up once she or he is placed in front of a computer, which nowadays is at age two. The beauty of the English language is that it borrows words from hundreds of languages and makes them her own, and although I commend Oxford for enhancing their Oxford Junior Dictionary to include new terms of technology, it should MOST DEFINITELY NOT be at the expense of nature terms—especially given the horrendous state of our environment. How can we expect the younger generation to be motivated to atone for our current and past generations’ blatant disregard for planet Earth if they are unaware of its unique species and flora?

    It seems absurd, and I dare say downright lazy, that the editors at Oxford University Press cannot think of a way to accommodate a handful of new technology terms to add to their current word entries, as a simple text/font redesign would be all that would be required, or, better yet, a simple production decision to add another page signature to the book to allow for the new word additions. They should be ashamed of themselves, especially due to the fact that they have historically been the gatekeepers of the English language. I cringe to think of what new hair-brained ideas they will come up with next.

    I applaud Mz. Elton for bringing this to our attention. It’s good to know that there are informed parents out there that take the time to bring these topics to our attention!!! Thank you very, very much!

    -Seriously Outraged

  4. I am horrified. Who did they ask? Urban children or rural? And surely removing the words from a dictionary is making it even less likely that children will discover these wonderful words. They should add more words, not remove them.

    English is such an astonishing language, with such a huge vocabulary. It is a shame that by stripping out these words from a dictionary that is easy for children to use, literature of all kinds will become more inaccessible for those children. How will they share in fairy tales and fables, nursery rhymes, playground chants and poetry without knowing these simple things?

    Yes, all children should make daisy chains, blow dandelion clocks and soothe their nettle stings with dock leaves – but the words are important too.

  5. Honestly, that is just crazy! Some of those words are used on nearly a daily basis in fall (acorn), spring (dandelion) and even today I had a blackberry (the fruit) smoothie for breakfast…. dictionaries are HUGE to begin with… how much of a difference will 6 other words make?

  6. Sounds like a bunch of child consumerism propaganda.

  7. IT REALLY REALLY REALLY makes me sad. :(

  8. Wow, I had not heard about this until I saw your Tweet. How depressing. This is definitely worse than when they added bootylicious to the dictionary a few years ago.

    You beautifully-written post ties in directly with a book I’m currently reading– Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. Here’s the author’s web site:


  9. I love technology in our lives, but this is an ABSOLUTE disgrace. So sad. I think that most children understand the majority of terms they added in the “technology” realm by the time they can speak, while they’ll grow up without learning about some of the world’s greatest assets. Unbelievable. Don’t suppose there’s a petition to change their minds? They should at least be made aware of their inane decision making.

  10. It pains me to think that children need to know a BlackBerry over a blackberry. To me, it is more telling about the parents’ priorities than the interests of a child. Sad.

  11. This is the first I’ve heard of such an atrocity, even though on Shaping Youth we cover ‘media and marketing’s impact on kids!’ egad! I know the ‘urban dictionary’ offers slang, and the “Visual Thesaurus” adds media components, but I’d never believe this swap out would be sanctioned…I MUST look into this…and um, blog it. sigh.

    p.s. This is a piece I wrote called “Media Savvy Kids & Nature Deficit Disorder” along those lines: http://blog.shapingyouth.org/?p=131

    Someone has to tell this story to Richard Louv!! ack!

  12. Many of the other words that were dropped from this particular dictionary were Christian ones. I’ve heard the revamp was an attempt to make the book seem “less biased” towards traditional Anglo culture (the current editor is of South Asian heritage).

  13. They removed “dandelion” and added “celebrity”. Maybe in the next version Britney Spears and Paris Hilton will be in the dictionary. They might need to remove “sun” and “moon”, however.

  14. This makes me so sad. What will happen to the beautiful traditions of children? Will the precious memories of stringing clovers into jewelry, picking berries by the lakeside, blowing dandelions’ white fuzz off with one blow, and singing childhood rhymes while jumproping be replaced by horrid technology that threatens your health? Even the Christian words such as abbey, monk, chapel, and nun are being removed. What next? Jesus? Christmas? Love? This leaves me speechless with sadness and horror.


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