Tag Archives: language

Word for Wednesday: Y is for yesteryear.

I was reading an online article from the Guardian newspaper yesterday about the changing face of the language of childhood.  Reflecting on it now, I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about it.

Apparently the editorial team at the Oxford University Press have made some amendments and updates for the forthcoming edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary, resulting in the removal of around fifty words relating to nature and the countryside.  Words such as magpie, newt, otter and hamster have been removed; replaced with words such as ‘cut and paste’, broadband and analogue.  All of these, of course, represent the increasingly digital world that our children are growing up in.

The changes have roused such passions that twenty eight notable authors, including Margaret Atwood, Andrew Motion and Michael Morpurgo amongst others, have written to the OUP expressing their concerns.

According to the Guardian, the signatories to the letter are:

‘ “profoundly alarmed” about the loss of a slew of words associated with the natural world from the Oxford Junior Dictionary, and their replacement with words “associated with the increasingly interior, solitary childhoods of today”.

[This is] “not just a romantic desire to reflect the rosy memories of our own childhoods onto today’s youngsters.  There is a shocking, proven connection between the decline in natural play and the decline in children’s wellbeing.”

“Will the removal of these words from the OJD ruin lives? Probably not,” say the authors. “But as a symptom of a widely acknowledged problem that is ruining lives, this omission becomes a major issue. The Oxford Dictionaries have a rightful authority and a leading place in cultural life. We believe the OJD should address these issues and that it should seek to help shape children’s understanding of the world, not just to mirror its trends.” ‘

This is not the first time that the OUP has faced a public outcry about changes to inclusions in the children’s dictionary.  In 2008, responding to a previous outcry, the response from OUP was that  “When you look back at older versions of dictionaries, there were lots of examples of flowers for instance. That was because many children lived in semi-rural environments and saw the seasons. Nowadays, the environment has changed.”


Yesteryear (noun).

  • last year 
  • time gone by
  • the recent past
  • last year, or the recent past, especially as nostalgically recalled.

Derivation: yesterday + year.  First known use: 1870.  According to dictionary.com it was coined 1870 by Dante Gabriel Rossetti from yester(day)  year.  He was translating from the French antan (from Latin anteannum “the year before”) in refrain by François Villon: Mais ou sont les neiges d’antan?, which Rossetti rendered “But where are the snows of yesteryear?”

It makes me sad to think that there is almost a sense of resignation that many children of this generation are so detached from the natural world.  That it is okay for them to confine their horizons to computers, technology, and what happens within the home.

I respect the signatories for their commitment to protecting the resilience of our children’s wider language and their connection to the natural world.  But I do not think it is OUP’s responsibility – or any other publishing house for that matter – to choose words strategically, in an effort to change the way our children interact with their world.  Surely if that job belongs to anyone, it belongs to us as parents?

I also think that it would be wrong to try to stop the evolution of the language of childhood.  Of course they need to know words that we didn’t need to know when we were children; the world has changed since then!  But it is important to keep a mix of both the old and the new.  There is almost definitely room for both ‘magpie’ and ‘modem’ in their sponge-like little brains!


B is for buttercup!


Word for Wednesday: K is for Kid!

Wednesday is Jungle Jingle day down at the Jungle House, which is available to members of Jungle Tots to use for organised play sessions.  I think whoever established Jungle Tots perhaps got a bit carried away with the jungle theme when they arrived in Brunei and discovered that it did indeed have quite a lot of jungle. There are also play sessions on other days called Jungle tumble and Messy play in the jungle!

But the one that my little girl really loves is Jungle Jingle.  An hour of parents and tots, singing songs together, ‘playing’ (for want of a better word!) musical instruments, doing accompanying dance and movement.  They are learning language and rhythm and coordination and a heap of other things, but it is noisy and silly and the kids love it.

Kid (noun).
  • a young person; child
  • a young goat 
  • a generalized reference to someone especially younger or less experienced 
Derivation: Middle English kide, of Scandinavian origin; akin to Old Norse kith kid.

First Known Use: 13th century.  It was slang for ‘child’ as early as the 16th century, and established in informal usage by the mid 19th century.


Today, ‘kid’ is commonplace in the English language across the world.  It is so widely used to mean children that even dictionaries that once gave it as secondary slang now list it above the (original? alternative?) meaning – a young goat.

Some people have very strong opinions about the use of the word kid in the context of children.  Their argument is that it is sloppy, inaccurate use of language, representative of a more general social and linguistic decline in modern culture. Strong feelings for one little word!  I confess I am not in that camp myself.

Sometimes I say children, sometimes I say kids, depending on the context.  I also think they can convey different things, depending on the way they are used.  I want my daughter to have a rich tapestry of language at her disposal, so she can really express herself.  I don’t want to hear everything described as ‘nice’ or ‘good’.  Equally I’d like her to know when it is appropriate to say ‘children’, when to say ‘kids’; how they are different from ‘teenager’ or ‘toddlers’.

A Year in the Merde focuses on the cultural differences between the French and the British, and is an entertainingly light-hearted read.  In this excerpt I think Stephen Clarke provides a classic example of an author very deliberately and effectively choosing the word ‘kid’ for purpose:

‘I was also sick of my neighbors, as most Parisians are. I now knew every second of the morning routine of the family upstairs. At 7:00 am alarm goes off, boom, Madame gets out of bed, puts on her deep-sea divers’ boots, and stomps across my ceiling to megaphone the kids awake. The kids drop bags of cannonballs onto the floor, then, apparently dragging several sledgehammers each, stampede into the kitchen. They grab their chunks of baguette and go and sit in front of the TV, which is always showing a cartoon about people who do nothing but scream at each other and explode. Every minute, one of the kids cartwheels (while bouncing cannonballs) back into the kitchen for seconds, then returns (bringing with it a family of excitable kangaroos) to the TV. Meanwhile the toilet is flushed, on average, fifty times per drop of urine expelled. Finally, there is a ten-minute period of intensive yelling, and at 8:15 on the dot they all howl and crash their way out of the apartment to school.’

(Stephen Clarke, A Year in the Merde).

Regardless of whether she’s a kid/child/bambino/bairn, here’s our little Jungle Jingler, doing what kids do best: making noise!