“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