A lot was made recently of the decision by the Oxford Dictionaries to take out some words from one dictionary and put in others. The choices that were especially criticised were the ones where “nature” words were lost in favour of computing words. I’m not sure where I stand on this; it is the task of the lexicographer, and especially one working with a word-limit to make such decisions. What words do children use? What do they need?
The excellent Landreader project makes some really good points in this blog post, not least the suggestion that the list of words to be taken from the Junior Dictionary can be seen as a “prose-poetry supplement to be administered like a multivitamin as a defense against lexical malnutrition” – a neat turn of phrase. It’s neat because of the word “need.” What words do children need, and why?
They need words to talk about things – ivy, a starling, catkins. They might need a dictionary to help them understand something on the edge of their current world – the stream that gives its name to Boundary Brook Road, the kingfisher in Kingfisher School. They might also want – and this is where a dictionary helps immensely – to inform when a reader meets something new and unexpected – minnow, newt, porpoise.
This has limits, of course: the Landreader project has a glossary which introduces the visitor to words beyond usual use: sleech, or drumble, or twitten. Intriguing though they are, they are not really for the Junior Dictionary. But are we really to think that heron and poppy are becoming part of the same world? That the comic linguistic vagaries of Rambling Syd Rumpo might also now include conker and stoat?