some missing words

The current issue of Orion, one of my favorite magazines, features “World Without Violets,” a scary little essay by Robert Michael Pyle.

A mother in Britain discovered that the editors of the current Oxford Junior Dictionary, in their zeal to bring this little dictionary for children up to date, had removed a long list of words dealing with nature in order to make room for words like “broadband,” “bungee jumping” and “chat room.”

Pyle writes about the universe the editors of the Dictionary have created for the current generation of children who would use it:

It is a world without violets. Spring comes unannounced by catkins and proceeds without benefit of crocuses, cowslips, or tulips. Summer brings no lavender, melons, or nectarines, and autumn is absent of acorns, almonds, and hazelnuts. Winter must be endured without the holly and the ivy, the wren or the mistletoe.

So, suddenly bungee jumping–how retro-80s is that concept?–is more important than tulips, broadband more necessary for children to know about than melons, and chat rooms more of our real world than holly.

If someone decides that we don’t need a word for something, does that something cease to exist? Not really. But what kind of mindset decides that children don’t need to know about their natural world anymore? I was disturbed.

5 thoughts on “some missing words”

  1. It’s rather a sad state of affairs isn’t it?!

    I’m with you on this one. I feel rather disturbed that the fundamentals of life are being overridden by such trivial things as ‘chat rooms’! With the recent government backed health promotion campaigns you would think that a melon was an important part of any child’s education.

    Quite saddening really.


  2. That’s pretty messed up. No, I don’t think the words cease to exist but why wouldn’t they just make the dictionary larger?

  3. Wow, that’s painful. I’d expect a little better from the folks at Oxford. And I guess I’d be disappointed. Sounds like we garden bloggers have our work cut out for us, then, eh?

  4. Ryan, it’s yet another symptom of our increasingly distanced stance from nature. I’m generally a pacifist, but I’m ready to defend “melon” and “tulip.”

    Tina, or they could make the print smaller. It’s mainly oldsters like me that have a problem with little words.

    Greg, yah. I’d have thunk that the culture of where Oxford is located would be more symptomatic towards words for plants than–I don’t know–Wasilla? It’s up to us to keep these good words alive!

  5. I don’t know exactly how to comment on this one. My love affair with words began with the very first books I could barely sound out as a toddler. Words like violets, melons and cowslips fire a child’s imagination.


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