Friday 6 October 2017

The Lost Words?

This looks like a fine book – which, as the review says, should be made available in a cheaper edition if it is to reach the intended audience. But in what sense are these words – words like blackberry, buttercup, kingfisher, acorn, bluebell, conker, wren – 'lost'? They have been dropped from a children's dictionary whose very limited remit is simply to reflect current usage. By that criterion, their omission was probably justified, though I'm always suspicious of the publicity-seeking stunts of dictionary publishers these days. 'Lost words', though? The words will only be lost if the things described are (if then – words can have long afterlives), and there is no sign of any of these common natural phenomena disappearing.
 The problem is that children today typically have less everyday contact with the natural world than they did in the days when they – we – were free to roam at large. But even in the city, nature is everywhere, even on the pavement (the asphalt can indeed be botanised), let alone in parks and gardens and along streets, many of which are still tree-lined, even in the very centre of town. Indeed the suburbs are now richer, in terms of natural diversity, than much of the intensively-farmed countryside. All that is needed is for children's attention to be drawn to this ever-present nature, and if the parents aren't doing that (especially when children are very young and eager to soak up all the knowledge they can get), then the schools should be – it's one of the most useful things they could do.
 Happily my (adorable) granddaughter, who has just started school, has already been out on at least one organised nature walk in a nearby park. Not that she needed it, as she's grown up well aware of what blackberries, buttercups, acorns, bluebells, conkers and the rest are – these are certainly not 'lost words' for her, and I'm sure she's not the only one. But schools should certainly be doing more of this sort of thing – right through to secondary level (as was standard when I was at school). It would be good for the children's health and wellbeing, expand their knowledge of the world, and make them more aware of what is around them. If there's no room on the timetable, why not drop 'physical education' in favour of nature walks? Far more beneficial than running around on a muddy field or jumping over a vaulting horse. Horse? Another 'lost word'?


  1. I live directly opposite the school where I used to work. There are wrens in my city garden and conkers in the gutters of the road outside my house. We also have a town fox sunning itself on our shed roof on occasion.

  2. Absolutely - nature is everywhere.