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.