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Was it right to axe ‘nature words’ like chestnut and clover from Oxford Junior Dictionary?

PUBLISHED: 15:45 02 April 2017

Low winter sunshine at Snape Maltings - the kind of sight that would make Chrissie Gittins's heart leap

Low winter sunshine at Snape Maltings - the kind of sight that would make Chrissie Gittins's heart leap

Chrissie Gittins was outraged when a children’s dictionary ditched words such as catkin and cauliflower for cut-and-paste and broadband. Has the battle has been lost or is there still hope?

Chrissie Gittins's latest bookChrissie Gittins's latest book

She was born in Lancashire, lives in south London and has had working residencies in Belmarsh Prison and on Shetland, but Suffolk remains a magnet for poet Chrissie Gittins.

She came first when she moved to the capital more than 30 years ago. “I needed an escape route and I would drive to Aldeburgh on my Honda 90 and stay in a flat on the seafront. It was a basement and you had to stand on a window seat to see the sea.

“I’d seen a dramatic black and white photograph of Benjamin Britten against the reeds at Snape Maltings. I’d never seen saltmarsh and mudflats before and was intrigued.” Nowadays she comes, for a proper stay in the county, at least twice a year. “I top that up with day trips when I’m missing the skies and horizons.”

She was in Stoke-by-Nayland recently. “I enjoyed seeing the catkins in the hedgerows, the aconites in the churchyard at St Mary’s, Great Henny, and drifts of snowdrops in the woods behind St Andrew’s Church at Wormingford.”

Chrissie Gittins - lover of SuffolkChrissie Gittins - lover of Suffolk

Which brings us to the anger of two years ago, after the Oxford Junior Dictionary axed more words connected with nature. Out: words such as chestnut and clover. In: analogue, and similar.

Authors including Margaret Atwood and Andrew Motion were alarmed by the culling of vocabulary relating to the natural world – in favour of words “associated with the increasingly interior, solitary childhoods of today”.

Chrissie agreed. “I was alarmed and shocked when I heard that, by 2007, 110 words which name certain animals, birds, pets, fish, fruits, plants, trees and vegetables had been deleted from the Oxford Junior Dictionary.

“If the word ‘catkin’ (now deleted) is in the dictionary, it gives it weight and bearing; it says this word is important enough...”

Chrissie – who has appeared at Aldeburgh Poetry Festival and written plays for BBC Radio 4 – aims to offer some of these “discards” a life-raft in her most recent poetry book for children.

Adder, Bluebell, Lobster features – as titles – 40 of the dumped words.

“Knowledge of these (deleted) words can enhance children’s connection with nature,” argues Chrissie. “There is now a proven link between the decline in children’s play in natural areas and the decline in children’s wellbeing. If we are to value nature, we need to value the words which name the objects of our delight and nurture them.

“I’m hoping a subsequent edition may reinstate these words, or that perhaps a change of editor might result in a different approach.”

* Adder, Bluebell, Lobster is published by Otter-Barry Books at £6.99

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