Oxford Junior English Dictionary Entry Changes Incites Anger From Margaret Atwood, Andrew Motion, and Other Writers

Dictionary (\ˈdik-shə-ˌner-ē, -ˌne-rē\) noun: A reference book that contains words listed in alphabetical order and that gives information about the words' meanings, forms, and pronunciations. And it's this dictionary definition of the word dictionary that shows just how important the reference book can be — especially when it comes to kids. A children's dictionary can be kids' first introduction to words and how to define the things that they see around them. So this is why the Oxford Junior English Dictionary's decision to remove "nature"-focused words in favor of Internet-centered words has raised the alarm of Margaret Atwood, Andrew Motion, Michael Morpurgo, Robert Macfarlane, and more than 20 other authors.

The Oxford Junior English Dictionary, which is aimed at 7-year-olds, has plans to cut more than 50 words. Atwood and the rest of the writers find this worrying considering recent studies showing that it is increasingly rare for children to play outside, instead choosing indoor, solitary play. In their statement to the Oxford University press, the authors discussed their concerns:

We recognise the need to introduce new words and to make room for them and do not intend to comment in detail on the choice of words added. However it is worrying that in contrast to those taken out, many are associated with the interior, solitary childhoods of today. In light of what is known about the benefits of natural play and connection to nature; and the dangers of their lack, we think the choice of words to be omitted shocking and poorly considered. ...
The research evidence showing the links between natural play and wellbeing; and between disconnection from nature and social ills, is mounting.

The words that have been removed include:

  • almond
  • blackberry
  • crocus
  • catkin
  • cauliflower
  • chestnut
  • clover
  • hamster
  • heron
  • herring
  • kingfisher
  • lark
  • leopard
  • lobster
  • magpie
  • minnow
  • mussel
  • newt
  • otter
  • ox
  • oyster
  • panther

I just have to say, as a Massachusetts-born woman, we wouldn't have made it through without knowing "lobster." And how is anyone going to play Oregon Trail without knowing "ox"? (Oh, and uh oh, I do not know what "catkin" is...)

In their places, the Oxford Junior Dictionary added words like "cut and paste," "broadband," "analogue," "block graph," and "celebrity." Um, what's a block graph? I must have to check the new OJD.

While there are no plans currently, according to the Oxford University Press, to publish a new print edition of the OJD, it is certainly a concerning trend. It should be understandable for language to grow and change, and it's hard to disagree that children need to learn about our new ways of connecting via the Internet, at least so we don't all sound old and stodgy. But, come on, panther? Almond?! We need to be paying more attention to how our adult trends are affecting future children.

Image: Chapendra/Flickr