Acorn. Fern. Cygnet. Everyday words. Or so you would think. Words that belong in everyone’s lexicon. However, along with bluebell, pasture and willow the Oxford Junior Dictionary has deleted these words from its books. Discarded, like ashes in a burnt out fire, they scatter on the breeze, taking flight, flying further away from us. 

As our youngsters increasingly reject the outdoors, the woods, fields, streams and gulleys, words relating to the environment are becoming redundant, replaced by ones of the digital world. Welcome to blog, broadband and chatroom. Welcome to the insidious destruction of our language; an incalculable loss that will only be felt, appreciated and mourned much later.

Our landscape is being replaced by cyberspace and in the process we are failing to see that the rocks and stones and trees ought to remain ‘an active and shaping force in our imagination, our ethics, and our relations with each other and the world’, according to Robert Macfarlane, Fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge. In his book, ‘Landmarks’, he stresses that ‘words do not simply label an object or action, but in some mysterious and beautiful way becomes part of it’. 

He particularly points to the regional variations of language relating to nature and the environment and in his book aims to preserve the words and dialects of fishermen, farmers and foresters across the UK. Words that have been eroded by time. As in the Aboriginal tradition in Australia of song-lines, he sees these words as our ‘song-lines’, the soul of the people and the country. 

Here are some of the words Macfarlane found during his research; enjoy their poetic finesse, their keen sense of onomatopoeia, their play on variation of ordinary words. Personally I have relished saying these lost words aloud – breathing life into them for one fleeting moment. My particular favourite is perfect for those moments of sharp sudden pain of a stubbed toes: ‘crottle!

  • aquabob             icicle                     Kent
  • shuckle              icicle                     Wessex
  • clinkerbell        icicle                      Cumbrian
  • wonty-tump    molehill               Herefordshire
  • may-bobs          Marigolds           Herefordshire
  • Nurped                freezing              Herefordshire
  • pank                    to knock or shake down apples from the tree              Herefordshire
  • crottle                 animal dung
  • doofers               animal dung
  • turdstool            animal dung
  • wind-hover       kestrel
  • bell-hawk          kestrel
  • urp                      cloudy with large clouds    Kent
  • Spronky             having many roots               Kent
  • Roarie-bummlers    storm clouds ‘noisy blunder’        Scottish
  • wewire                to move about as foliage in the wind   Essex
  • èit                        placing of quartz stones in moorland streams so they would sparkle and attract salmon.                                     Gaelic
  • báini-báini         used to call pigs                                           Irish

We all have a responsibility to counter this linguistic doomsday. Language is our responsibility; use it wisely, widely and with abundance. Its rich and varied existence depends on us and us alone. At risk is a verbal uniform blindness, the unforgiving norm.

‘Language is the light of the mind.’

John Stuart Mills. 


88 thoughts on “DISAPPEARING WORDS

    1. Yvonne, it does make you wonder doesn’t it – what are we without words? Not only couldn’t we communicate but also we couldn’t form original thoughts! Very scary and as my grandfather used to say when you asked how he was (suffering as he did with various ailments), ‘My mind is fine, so I am fine!’ Thank you so much for your comment.

  1. What an incredibly interesting post! How sad to see such common words leave the junior dictionary. It makes no sense to me -those words do not seem odd at all. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. Words are such a fascinating subject and a true treasure to society

    1. Thank you so much, Jan (think that’s right?). Writing this I’ve become even more fascinated with the language around me, unusual words and languages which are under threat of extinction. How true that words are our treasures in society – what would we do without communication, how would we even think a single thought?! It is so precious and needs a protection order in its own right! Thank you for your comment.😀

  2. I’m stunned that they’ve dropped acorn and willow. Those don’t at all seem like advanced level words to me. I guess kids in the future will have to enjoy reading Kenneth Graham’s Wind in the Droopy Tree Things.

    1. I know, it seems incredible that such ordinary words were left out of the new edition – I would love to have been at the meeting where they rationalised such a decision. It will be a sad day when these lovely common words of nature are as rare as the words on the list. Hehe!😀 Wind in the Droopy Tree Things somehow just doesn’t have the same ring to it!

      1. I agree. I know language changes over the years. I wouldn’t expect a children’s dictionary to have entries for bodkin and arquebus, but it’s not like willows have disappeared and been replaced by something else. They’re still there along the river banks — even in towns. Surely the kids still need to know what to call them.

  3. Wow, so many words I’ve never heard. I will save this list and use them when I can. An excellent post, Annika. Back from vacation and missing the sandy beach already. It was a bit colder than usual but very relaxing. Hope you’re feeling better!?

    1. Karin, it is definitely a great list and I must say we’ve found ourselves using these words at home for fun! Glad you had a relaxing holiday – that is all so important. 😀 Don’t mention cold…yesterday it was warm enough for lunch outside in the sun, then today bitter and damp. Grr…Spring hurry up!

  4. As a retired teacher of world languages, I loved this post with vocabulary words. In Germany I taught English as a foreign language and had to use British English words. I spoke with a distinctly American accent. More than once I consulted a dictionary to discover word meanings. If I told an American student to put his suitcase in the boot, he would look at me oddly. A student in Germany would have understood and put his suitcase in the boot/trunk of the car. Boots are worn on the feet in winter weather. When speaking about cars, we speak of the trunk of the car as a place to put a suitcase. I believe the British refer to the bonnet of a car which we term the hood. We have Easter bonnets as fancy hats that women wear. The hood of course has many meanings in American English as well. You can pull up your hood on a coat or jacket to protect yourself from the elements such as rain. But a hood can also refer to a hoodlum or ruffian. If you are from the “hood,” you live in the neighborhood. I love how languages change all the time, but I too mourn so many computer and technology words used today. We all know that you have to learn a new language to work with computers!

    1. Mary Ann, thank you so much for your interesting comment. 😀 There is such a cross-over of the English language, I pity anyone trying to learn it! At university we had 20% American students and it was fun comparing the variations of common place words. I wonder why there is such a difference and when the shift took place? Reading your comment it’s amazing how one word, e.g. hood, can have so many varied meanings – from the innocuous to the threatening. At least it keeps us all on our toes! I assume words in America are being likewise sidelined and slowly depleted as new tech etc words enter the language? I feel this topic could become a linguistic book!

      1. I agree with your comment. Language is ever changing including the German language which has adopted so many English words connected with the digital world. We call it a cell phone and in German, it is a Handy. I suppose one could reason that it is “handy” to be able to carry and use a phone anywhere. I enjoy our visits. Now, the English language is another discussion. I used a paper bag in the supermarkets in the Northeast. Out West is was a sack. And when I was in a corner grocery store in the South, the man asked if I wanted a poke. I backed up thinking his fist might strike me. He had a paper bag/sack in his hand. I immediately looked up the word when I got home to discover it was a Southern regional use of paper bag/sack. Yes, indeed, it is another book!

  5. I am still stuck on your first bit, if you don’t personally know what a “Acorn. Fern. Cygnet” is how could you understand it from a dictionary definition. Imagine memorizing these words without ever seeing the actual living organism. They would just be, well, dictionary definitions. Still eliminating them from a dictionary is horrifying.
    Having these natural wonders in the dictionary, might lead one to actually INVESTIGATE!
    Of course, there is always google, where these queries will never die.
    Did you live before google?
    I remember how much patience it took access information
    We actually had to use ‘card catalouges’.
    Does anyone now know what that phrase means?
    And horror of all horrors, we had to trace them in micro-fiche.
    I remember micro-fiche with pretty substantial hatred.

    1. Cindy, I know, it is frightening that these normal words are just disappearing from the dictionary, seemingly without any thought about the implication of this action. It’s almost as if acorns etc cease to exist as themselves with time and become little brown/green objects. Oh, don’t get me on about google – how did I live before it? I wrote about this in my previous post – I’m an addict! I think I know what you mean with ‘card catalogues’ and I used some micro-fiche in my history research but they were headache-inducing trying to decipher the vague print. Much better were the old encyclopaedias – I have a set of 1986 Britannica that stand proud in my bookcase but sadly untouched for years!

    1. Clinker bell is great, Jo. You can just visualise it and hear it!😀 I agree, language is a joy and wondrous being, its own life-force, always adapting, changing…sometimes we celebrate the new additions, sometimes we mourn the losses.

  6. Interesting that so many of these words relate to nature and the outdoors–two things that are sadly lacking when you spend your life staring at a screen. Even when people are outdoors these days, they’re staring at their phones instead of looking at the world around them. Maybe I need to work each of those words into one of my books!


    1. Stephanie, that would be cool -working these words into your books. I seriously think the more writers and others use the words the more chance they have of surviving. The connection between the two is very real and hence the discussion on today’s youth and the indoor-generation. Of course there are exceptions but overall the outdoors is used less all of us I feel. Thank you for your lovely considered comment.

  7. Pingback: DISAPPEARING WORDS | lampmagician

  8. This is so true. Youth these days are all about technology. I like technology too, just as much as the next person, but there is a lot to be said for the wonderful outdoors and the gift of our world. Kids loose a great deal by not getting outside and enjoying it and becoming a stakeholder in the environment. I have also noticed many words that are not as prevalent as they once were, and it is good to go back every now and then and use them…poetry is a great forum for that.

    1. As with all things I think it is so important to strike a balance in life and there is no way technology is going away. Like you, I like my computer etc but the thing is to make sure you rule it and not the other way around. Hopefully these words will make it through the years even if the Junior dictionary has deleted them! Oh, poetry is a beautiful way of using words not so common, breathing new life into them. The more the rarer words are used the more they’ll be read and hopefully be brought back into the wider community.

  9. Mike

    It’s a shame that we are losing so many words as it devalues the language and leaves us much the poorer,. The nuances, regionality and colour of these word add so much to the spoken and written word. On saying that however I will continue to incude as many of these words as possible in my everyday speech, despite the confused looks that will probably provoke. So, my mission next week is to get wonty-tump and turd stool into a conversation somewhere, and also mention that my family tree is spronky. Can’t wait for the responses.

    My favourite word – well there are a few but if pushed I have to say it’s fibbertygibbit.

    Great post Annika (again)

    1. What a great favourite word, Mike and it had my clicking over to google to discover its meaning. For others in the dark: ‘its a frivolous, flighty, or excessively talkative person’. Is this someone you know, I wonder? I like your use of spronky for family trees – an extension of the original meaning but works well. So true that the more words we lose, the poorer we all become – let’s all unite to use the disappearing words and their ilk before they (and us) slowly vanish.

    1. Having grown-up in Yorkshire I’ve never heard of ‘nithered’ so it must be very particular to the North East – it’s a great word! I do like these regional variations and I didn’t realise often that many were Yorkshire words until I moved South and saw everyone’s blank faces.

  10. That is not good news. My hubby and I were talking about this recently – he is very anti computers. Already there are digital detox holidays in which we can go to unplug, with no internet. Perhaps in this type of environment disappearing words will be kept, I do hope so. As with everything in life getting a balance is paramount between time spent on-line and time spent with nature. I find this whole topic quite fascinating Annika, thanks for drawing my attention to it this morning.

    1. Yes, it seem that computer related words were the main reasons the other ones were ‘kicked out’. Luckily my son and I get to experience many weeks of digital detox – now looking forward to two weeks of Easter bliss in the nature of Sweden with no computers, TV etc. Talking to one of his friends and he said although he would love visit sometime but he couldn’t imagine being away from his Xbox for so long! Very sad. I agree though, computers aren’t going away so a balance as with all things is so important – just keep the language and communication alive though!

        1. Oh no, my son is fine without this electronics; loves the nature, reads like crazy, out meeting family. It was his friend who doesn’t want to visit and be without his gaming! Have a great time in Brighton. Is your eldest daughter there at uni?

  11. Shocked to hear that words like cygnet and acorn and being delisted. The language, and we, will be poorer. Of course language also grows and changes with humanity, so, in a way, it is inevitable. But sad nevertheless. What I find equally disturbing is the reason for some of these losses, that youngsters are preferring to stay indoors more and more.

    1. It is sad when such words are being pushed away to make way for technological related words and very worrying as our language is depleted – like losing part of yourself. There are so many repecurscsions to the language, to the youth of today, to our spiritual relationship with nature. Thank you so much for your comment.

  12. I can’t imagine why words like acorn or fern didn’t make it into the junior dictionary. And I love all those other words. But you are right, the world is changing, still a shame.

    1. It is a shame and some of these older words are real corkers – absolutely fabulous. Perhaps it just takes a few to start using them to rejuvenate them! My own thought regarding the dictionary is that they only keep a certain amount of words in the book for ease of handling and their thought is to put the ones most used by children. But that is exactly what is so telling about our society in that case.

  13. I am saddened by the loss of these words. Since the average vocabulary size is only 20,000-35,000 words, I guess they have to make way for new ones. I’ve probably added several hundred cyber-sort of words–I wonder which words got kicked out to make room?

    Out of curiosity, I took a test at TestYourVocabulary.com to see how large mine is. Mine was only 30k. I really need to pay more attention!

    1. Jacqui, I’m smiling here, imagining your guilt-ridden self! 😀 I think society as a whole has changed the language so much and it’s inevitable that new words are added and others disappear – I suppose there is obviously a finite number that we retain. Sadly! It’s that these normal everyday words are being kicked out so early…crazy. Oh, 30K seems really good to me. For some reason the link didn’t work on my computer but I’ll try it again later.

  14. What a great post, Annika! So sad that so many kids these days are losing touch with the outdoors. I love language as well; I’ll have to note your list. Someday one of those will be the perfect word! It’s like when I found out there is actually a word for the time just before sunset when all the color in the world turns to gray: Eisengrau. Now I’m waiting for that perfect scene in which I can use it!

    1. Julie, what a great word and it is German, meaning ‘Ice Grey’. Hmm..reckon you might have to write the scene in which to use it. As young I often found that words didn’t exist for something I needed to say and so would make them up. Nowadays that perfect word will come to me either in German or Swedish and I’ll flap around trying to find the exact English equivalent and realise the language is just missing it. Although many children do like the outdoors I think overall children are outside far less then in previous generations – which is a loss to both them and the world.

  15. I am astonshed that the Oxford Junior Dictionary will delist these words. For myself, I have quite a large vocabulary of words I seldom use. You don’t hear them in the city these days, but you do in the country. Take ‘dreich’, for example – a combination of dull, overcast, drizzly, cold, and miserable weather.

    (Use of this word is not advised if you can’t pronounce it and it comes out as ‘dreik’.)

    1. I haven’t heard that word for years, Rod. Whilst at university in Scotland my friends would often say ‘dreich’ and yes, it says a lot about the state of weather we encountered! On a nearly daily basis! I wonder what other words the dictionaries are quietly removing from their pages…I’m sure the Oxford Junior Dictionary are not the only culprits.

    1. Jane, I had to laugh at this – the world reduced to grunts! Actually, sometimes I can be watching the politicians and my mind tunes out and all I can hear is something resembling grunts! I suppose the new words (eg. tech. ones) are being added but at what cost? Is there a finite number of words? For the normal person we have a word range of 20,000 – 35,000 supposedly. Surely we can push the limit!

      1. I can push the limits beyond ‘you know’ and ‘like’ and ‘whatever.’ I spend a lot of time waiting for the bus and lots of school kids are writing too…dear God I lose the will within moments of them starting what passes for a conversation these days, never lifting their heads to ‘eyeball’ each other, all you get is ‘yeah, like whatever, yeah, like init.’ I wonder what the hell are they ‘discussing,’ but I don;t think they get into a discussion, more a series of grunts and the odd word I can understand, as their deft thumbs race across the screen to squeals of ‘omg! omg! I want that, she is just so like completely sick.’ 20,000-35,000 range…hmm…

        1. Jane, I made this constant eyes down on mobiles one of my pet hates in another post then had to laugh at my own hypocrisy as I was walking through town the other day, glancing through my emails! You do have me laughing with the communication of grunts by the school kids and feel your frustration all the way here! Ugh! Grrr! omg!

          1. LOL eyes down but no shouts of ‘house.’ I try not to use my mobile in public and I have trouble not walking into walls as it is, so I’d be lethal texting and walking…thumbs and feet wouldn’t synch I am sure. I thought I’d heard it all – the vocabulary of grunts that is – when working with thrash and heavy metal bands, but the school kids take the biscuit. Actually most of my band were very intellectual which had its own idiosyncrasies. LOL

  16. It makes me sad that words slip away. I think they are full of magic and if we lose the words we lose the magic. When I worked with young children I taught them words for feelings because words organize and differentiate experience. If we haven’t the words, we haven’t the ability to understand and appreciate. I don’t know if that makes sense, but if we lose the word “fern” then ferns become “green plants” and we lose the unique beauty of ferns. 🙂

    1. Diana, I understand what you mean – the specific word imbues that object with its own unique characteristic. Language can be underrated but it is central to our existence, as you know from your experience with young children. How can they explain without the vocabulary. Words are still like magic to me and sometimes I love just saying a particular word repeatedly, almost as if physically tasting it (if that doesn’t sound too crazy!). Wishing you a lovely weekend.

  17. Spronky and wonky-tump… my favorites. 🙂 I can see them as well as hear them. I was up in Alaska watching my grandkids play in the snow last week. Kids still have a love of nature, given half a chance. They also love their video games, of course. Good blog, Annika! –Curt

    1. As with all things, Curt, I guess it’s a matter of balance – the outside and indoors with the internet etc. The problem is how often this balance is not achieved I would argue and this is reflected in the words disappearing. What a wonderful environment for your grandchildren in Alaska and great place to head out and play. I bet you joined them! The cold damp British weather just doesn’t seem to have the same appeal…

      1. I’ve felt for a long time that we don’t do enough to encourage people to go out into the woods. This was true for the TV generation as well as the Internet generation. There is no doubt that both TV and the Internet are extremely seductive. I think parents set the tone however. Interesting on English weather. Tony has been living on Kodiak where rain and cold rule, but the kids think nothing of putting on their rain gear to go out and play. Tough little kids. –Curt

        1. Curt, I’m so enjoying discussing this with you and sense a new post in this very issue! There’s no right or wrong I feel but many different areas in our lives that we can look closer at and see how that is affecting our children and society at large – then act accordingly. Personally I love the outdoors and that’s when I feel my best – five weeks admist the nature of Sweden in Summer sets me up for the year!

          1. I am sure that five weeks out in the woods of Sweden would do it for me as well, Annika. I have a four week, 250 mile backpack trip planned for this summer which should accomplish a similar purpose. (grin) –Curt

  18. An excellent post, Annika. I’m wit you and John Stuart Mills: “Language is (indeed) the light of the mind!” Every lost ray will only darken our global horizons. Sharing you post… 🙂 Bette

    1. Thank you for your lovely comment and for sharing, Bette. I reckon writers and interested parties have to take the battle for the language wherever we can to stop the linguistic darkness.

  19. delphini510

    A great post Annika. Both beautiful and a wake up call. I was amazed that even such ‘common’ words as mentioned in the first paragraph should disappear.! They surely are in daily use. Macfarlane puts it beautifully when he compare words to “Song lines”, the soul of the people and the country. The Aboriginal gave us a beautiful word.

    As to the list of words lost, I have now copied them and will save. Several good ones there to use.:)
    I love your statement:

    Language is our responsibility; use it wisely, widely and with abundance. Its rich and varied existence depends on us and us alone.”

    1. Thank you and it is indeed a wake-up call. I was equally astounded when I saw the words that were left out – wonder what their reasoning was behind this decision? Words are so much more than just that, a word, they are part of us, inhabit our being, our world and his description as song-lines is so apt. Glad you liked the list; there are so many! May we all continue to enjoy the language and indulge in its celebration rather than its destruction.

  20. Sunshine Jansen

    “Le mot juste” is pretty much the guiding force of my life and I share your dismay — it’s not just slavish adherence to “outmoded” language, it’s a theft of the richness of our inner lives. I really want “there’s a word for that” to replace “there’s an app for that”… Fortunately, almost every time I interact with people online (many of them much younger than me) they comment on my vocabulary and I give them book suggestions and show them how easy it is. So I can’t quite lose hope… (And “crottle” has just been added to my arsenal of expletives — thank you!)

    1. An arsenal of expletives, eh! I like the sound of that. You are definitely playing a role in keeping language alive and in use; the more that do, the greater hope there is to delay the loss of so many beautiful emotive and descriptive words. How spot on that so many look for ‘apps’ rather than ‘words’ in their daily life, a sad reality which only further drifts vocabulary usage to the bare minimum. Never lose hope, though!

  21. A fascinating post–the words excluded from the Junior Dictionary are very telling. I like your conclusion that each of us can play a role in keeping language rich with a broad range of experience and sounds.

    1. I had to do a double take when reading which words had been excluded as it seemed unbelievable; such normal everyday words. Talking to my son about it, he was equally shocked. Maybe the Junior Dictionary staff are underestimating the young; I can only hope but fear the slide is well on the way down. Thank you so much for your comment, Janice and I suppose here on wordpress and in our daily lives we all do have an effect by the language we use.

      1. Yes the missing words are amazing. The only reason I can think for eliminating such perfectly current words would be a size limit for junior hands. It would be interesting to know more about their selection policy– I would think if they were eliminating nature nouns they should provide some sort of mention or rationale in a preface.

  22. JoHanna Massey

    ‘Roarie-bummlers’ is such a great word! Actually every one of those words is wonderful and deserves keeping.
    It concerns me, this turning away form our natural world…and the words that so lyrically describe it.
    Excellent post. Thank you.

    1. Johanna, obviously so many words are being lost, probably everyday, but I did like the way this concentrated on those related to the natural world. The more these words disappear the more I wonder if we aren’t losing ourselves.

    1. What ‘word of the day’ site is that, Jill? What a great idea and I’d love to have a look at it. Your favourite word is terrific but what does it mean? My second favourite on this list in now ‘wonty-tump’ – such fun to say and just learnt that tump means small mound. Ha! A day of learning.

    1. JC, my guess is that a lot of words are forgotten! Reading around the topic I found that altogether there are about 7,000 languages in the world but around 90% of these are expected to disappear in the next 100 years. 😞Blimey, there I was being sad about the loss of certain words!

    1. Thank you, Elaine. The eradication of so many great and perhaps even not so great words is harsh and sad. Oh yes, I spotted your blog title from the beginning – really like it. Are you sure it should still be called ‘becoming’? You seem quite the wordsmith to me!😀

    1. Thank you very much for the reblog and your comment. I’m all for innovation and new technology but it is sad that the price is so high and we lose ourselves along the way.

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