What if I told you that the word “tourmaline” was to be struck from the English language? How about “aurora” or “gossamer?” Those aren’t words we use so much — why not toss them. And yet, the essence each of those words bestows on the page and conjures in the mind is somewhat irreplaceable. With those words’ elimination, might humanity suffer, never seeing that version of blue again, that particular dawn, that tiny Shakespearean thread?
The elimination of numerous English words did occur at the 2015 printing of the Oxford Children’s Dictionary. Out of shock and despair, poet/outdoorsman Robert Macfarlane and illustrator Jackie Morris came to the rescue with a very special remedy.
” . . . In early 2015, when the 10,000-entry Oxford children’s dictionary dropped around fifty words related to nature — words like fern, willow, and starling — in favor of terms like broadband and cut and paste, some of the world’s most prominent authors composed an open letter of protest and alarm at this impoverishment of children’s vocabulary and its consequent diminishment of children’s belonging to and with the natural world…” writes Maria Popova in a recent Brain Pickings article introducing a remarkable new book of poetry.
The volume is Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris’s The Lost Words, an illustrated dictionary of threatened terms rediscovered through poetry and painting.
I look forward to picking up my copy of this language-saving volume, not only to preserve the way I read and write, but to pour over the dreamlike illustrations and expressive, moving lines on each page. Thank you to these artists-preservationists. I am so humbled.