Nature words follow the dodo?

According to UNESCO, an entire language goes extinct — every two weeks! Experts predict that half of the world’s languages will be lost in my lifetime. Human languages are living things, right? So we say it is natural — words are born, words flourish, words fail us or experience revivals, words become “endangered” and fade away.

Still, I was frustrated to learn that The Oxford Junior Dictionary (published for schoolchildren) has removed numerous words describing the natural world, in order to make room for new words describing technology. Here are just a few of the nouns Oxford dropped:

acorn, ash, beaver, beech, blackberry, bloom, bramble, county, decade, doe, fern, ferret, fungus, gooseberry, heron, minnow, mint, mussel, newt, otter, ox, panther, porcupine, psalm, raven, starling, thrush, vine, walnut, weasel, willow, wren

An explanation attributed to Oxford University Press states:

“When you look back at older versions of dictionaries, there were lots of examples of flowers for instance. That was because many children lived in semi-rural environments and saw the seasons. Nowadays, the environment has changed.”

In an ironic twist, “blackberry” was removed from OJD, and “BlackBerry” was added. Widespread substitution of virtual for natural experience (and now language) leads to what Richard Louv calls “nature deficit disorder, not in a clinical sense, but as a condition caused by the cumulative human costs of alienation from nature, including diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses” (- Last Child in the Woods).

“Picture of a Dodo, taken from Naturalists’ Miscellany of 1793.” Originally uploaded by kevinzim

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