earthweal guest weekly challenge: LOST WORDS

by Sarah Connor

I’m really good at recognising wildflowers.

That’s not because I’ve studied them, or been taught about them. It’s mainly because I loved the Cecily Mary Barker books when I was a child. Reading and re-reading those gorgeous little books gave me a real grounding in English wildflowers. It means that now, when I go for walks, I have something to look out for. It also means that I notice something different, I know that it’s different, I might go home and look it up (probably in a slightly more grown-up book). It’s given me a personal connection to nature. It’s given me a series of hooks to hang new learning on.

Here’s the lovely Blackthorn Fairy, from Pinterest. Note that the leaves aren’t out yet – one of the ways to spot that this is blackthorn, not hawthorn. Impressed?

Why am I telling you this? Well, we’re all poets. We know how important words are. How important it is to name things. We’re also here at earthweal, so we care about this planet. We see the danger Earth is in, and we want things to change.

In 2005, Robert Louv coined the term Nature-Deficit Disorder®. He was talking about the damage done to children when they don’t have access to nature, and linking it to a number of physical and mental health difficulties. The world was obviously ready for this idea, and there’s been lots of research since then looking at the damage to the individual, but also the damage done to the planet when humans don’t feel connected to nature. People don’t care about things they don’t feel connected to.

Roll on to 2007, and a new edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary. This is a dictionary for children, which aims to “the current frequency of words in daily language of children”. The 2007 edition created a massive shockwave in the UK by including words like “broadband” and omitting words like “acorn”. At least 40 words from the natural world were left out. In response to this, Robert MacFarlane and Jackie Morris created a beautiful “spell-book” – The Lost Words.

Just to give you an idea of how shocking this was, here’s a selection of words omitted:

  • Dandelion
  • Bramble
  • Fern
  • Acorn
  • Heron
  • Kingfisher
  • Raven
  • Starling
  • Willow
  • Lavender
  • Sycamore
  • Poppy
  • Otter
  • Newt
  • Wren
  • Magpie

MacFarlane quotes a Cambridge study showing that children are better at identifying Pokemon characters than they are at identifying “organisms such as oak trees or badgers”.

Wittgenstein said “whereof we cannot speak, thereof we must remain silent”. If we don’t have words, names for things, how do we think about them? How do we feel connection?

That connection is vital for our planet. We don’t care about things we don’t feel connected to. Everyone knows this. Big brands try to make you feel part of a “family”. Politicians survey to find out what issues we care about. Football fans buy scarves and replica kits to feel part of something bigger than themselves. If we let our children be more connected to electronic creatures than to the natural world around them, how can they gain a sense of love and care for this wonderful planet of ours?

So, for this prompt, I’d like you to think about how you first felt connected to nature – maybe as a child, or as an adult. Some of those lost words may inspire you, or you may have your own lost word (or world?) that gave you a sense of wonder at the natural world around you. Maybe you collected caterpillars, or watched birds on a bird-table, or squatted down to watch beetles, or looked up to see squirrels in the treetops.

Let’s aim to connect humans with nature. Let’s inspire love and respect. Let’s write poems.

9 thoughts on “earthweal guest weekly challenge: LOST WORDS

  1. Hi Sarah, your prompt reminded me of a key experience so I’ve posted early too. It simply written – maybe because that childhood experience is imprinted in my mind in a childlike way.


  2. When I read that list of deleted words, I was appalled too. But it’s true–many young people don’t even know an oak from a maple. How can you learn to value what you don’t know? (K)


  3. Sarah,
    This is such an important reflection. As a mother and a lifetime educator I find this list of omitted words very concerning. You did a beautiful job expressing the importance of being connected to the earth and all that lives on it.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.