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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Oxford Junior Silences Wind in the Willows, Strikes Fear in Piglet

Audible cries rattled the WILLOWS along the river where OTTER lived when good-natured Mole brought news that the head honchos at Oxford  had struck his name from their Junior Dictionary.  Toad, who enjoyed all the latest fads, wasn't upset until he realized that there would be no more stilted HERONS pounding down the river (a lovely phrase he discovered reading Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men). 

"Yea gads!" exclaimed Badger. "Will I be the next to go?" Even the WEASELS, who had taken over Toad Hall, were aghast.  "Hair today, gone tomorrow!" 

In Winnie the Pooh's forest, just a short dusty walk down the bookshelf, another ruckus broke out when Christopher Robin brought the news to his woodland gang.  "Dear dear little PIGLET," he said, "I'm afraid you have become defunct."  Piglet's smile turned upside down.  "What's defunct?" Pooh asked.  Christopher Robin shook his head. "It means kaput. Gone. A blip on the radar." Eeyore's ears drooped. "What's a radar?" he asked.

And so it is.  Words come and go.  In 2008, author Richard Louv (Children & Nature Network) and a pack of journalists and conservationists ferreted out the news that the folks at Oxford Junior Dictionary had removed dozens of nature, farming and agricultural words, like these ones:

Photo by John Gritts
Used with Permission
Beaver, boar, cheetah, colt, cygnet, doe, drake, ferret, heron, herring, kingfisher, lark, leopard, lobster, magpie, minnow, mussel, newt, otter, ox, oyster, panther, pelican, piglet, plaice, porcupine, porpoise, raven, starling, stoat, stork, terrapin, thrush, weasel, wren.  Acorn, almond, apricot, ash, beech, beetroot, blackberry, bluebell, bramble, brook, buttercup, carnation, catkin, cauliflower, chestnut, clover, conker, cowslip, crocus, dandelion, fern, fungus, gooseberry, hazel, hazelnut, heather, holly, horse chestnut, ivy.

The list goes on: lavender, leek, melon, mint, mistletoe, nectar, nectarine, oats, pansy, parsnip, poppy, primrose, prune, radish, rhubarb, spinach, sycamore, tulip, turnip, vine, violet, walnut, willow.

Yep, even Steinbeck's stilted heron pounding down the river in his classic work Of Mice and Men was removed.

Enter instead words like blog, celebrity, cut-and-paste, broadband, and analogue.

Now, with the latest Oxford revision, a swarm of writers like Margaret Atwood and Michael Morpurgo (War Horse) have sent a letter to Oxford expressing why they are profoundly alarmed. "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."


Alistair Fraser, the Kootenay Lake explorer, digs deep in his blog post "Shooting the Messenger," posing the question that perhaps the Oxford editors aren't to blame so much as their decisions are a reflection of the culture - kids want to play inside because, as a child once told Richard Louv, "That's where all the electrical outlets are."

I have no desire to read or write a book about an electrical outlet.  Yet I love Shilo Shiv Suleman's Ted talk, "Using Tech to Enable Dreaming" and how she takes us inside the world of interactive books.  "Storytelling," she tells us, "is becoming more and more sensorial."  A sensory experience: something you can taste, touch, smell, hear or see.  Its how our bodies interpret the world.

I like Mole's world. "Hullo, World!" he calls out to Rat.  And I like Pooh's world, where Piglet asks, "What about me?"  A.A. Milne answers, "Yes, what about us?" And I can't help but hear the entire world of Nature answering, "Yes, PLEASE, keep us on your radar!"

NOTES: Read more at CBCNews/Arts & Entertainment. Read more in Nature Canada.