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.”
- 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 a 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!