UK loses its memory

December 15, 2008 at 2:00 am 7 comments

What the? The title of the article in The Telegraph (UK) piqued my interest: “Words Associated with Christianity and British history taken out of children’s dictionary”.

Oxford University Press IMHO has lost the plot. They are zapping words like – monarch, empire, aisle, bishop, chapel, abbey, monk, nun –  from its Junior Dictionary and adding words like – blog, broadband, celebrity, MP3 player, biodegradable, voicemail, bullet point. Words relating to the English countryside, such as willow, heather, sycamore and buttercup have also vanished, along with Christian-related words such as – sin, devil, minister. Talk about verbal re-engineering! Well, actually stupidity.

The logic behind this, according to OUP, is that the changes reflect the fact that Britain is now a modern, multicultural, multifaith society. So all the Christians have suddenly disappeared from Britain?? Seems to me if you zap Christian-related words, you are rejecting Christianity and can hardly lay claim to being multifaith. Is this political correctness gone too far? Will Britain lose a large part of its cultural and etymological memory?

Apparently, the removal of words largely went unnoticed until a mother from Northern Ireland was helping her son do his homework and noticed that “moss” and “fern” were in the 2003 edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary but not the 2007 edition. Yeah, I can see how the words “moss” and “fern” could be politically charged or offensive !!!

Academics and teachers have thrown their collective hands up in horror. Professor Alan Smithers (clearly a smart dude), the director of the Centre for Education and Employment at Buckingham University says:

“We have a certain Christian narrative which has given meaning to us over the last 2,000 years. To say it is all relative and replaceable is questionable… The word selections are a very interesting reflection of the way childhood is going, moving away from our spiritual background and the natural world and towards the world that information technology creates for us.”

Did not George Orwell say that the decline of language has accelerated the general decline of civilisation? And didn’t the Catholic theologian, William Smith, say that all social engineering is preceded by verbal engineering?

Okay, I realise that it’s a lexicographer’s job to analyse things like the frequency of word usage and chuck out old-fashioned words so language is fluid. But dudes come on! Moss is moss. What should we call it now? Furry, green stuff that you slip on? And why is buttercup suddenly an old-fashioned word? Do milk producers now have to change the title of cartons of Buttercup Whole Milk to “pale golden, creamy coloured liquid you can drink”?

I well remember being a teacher in country New South Wales. Dubbo to be exact. At that time, it was out in the boondocks, full of fabulous, country Australian characters who uttered fascinating words like geebung, malarky, collywobbles, jimjams. I have a great book called Lost for Words by Hugh Lunn that faithfully records some of Australia’s lost language and reminds me of the language I used to hear.

I guess someone will have to write a book soon for the UK with a title something like “Gross Stupidity: how Oxford University Press scuttled the rich language of Britain”. But if you ask me, I think it’s just another example of the dumbing-down of our society.


Entry filed under: Rant. Tags: , , , .

A twist of lime UK dumbing down?

7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. creativespark  |  December 15, 2008 at 8:29 am

    Hi Kim

    I’m still scratching my head over this post. Did they really sit around a board table and decide this?

    Dumbing down indeed.

    =/ Marc

  • 2. thinkingshift  |  December 15, 2008 at 8:59 am

    I’m looking into this further Marc. Is it April 1st??!! I want to find out what the selection and editorial process is. What sort of stakeholder analysis did they do – did they survey academics, English language experts, teachers, parents, kids even?? and even if they did do this – how on earth would a decision be made to chuck out innocuous (and I’d suggest still relevant words) like moss, heather and so on?

  • 3. James Dellow  |  December 15, 2008 at 11:10 am

    I think part of the irony here is that the information age means we shouldn’t have to remove or lose anything to make room for new words, we can just keep adding them.

  • 4. thinkingshift  |  December 15, 2008 at 11:16 am

    someone with a bit of sense like yourself James should have been on the Board or whatever group of dudes came to this nonsensical decision about removing words!

  • 5. Joel Orr  |  December 15, 2008 at 11:46 pm

    I am stunned. I wonder if they are also eliding “Orwell,” “Newspeak,” and “bookburning.”

    Shaking head,
    Joel Orr
    You have a book inside you. I want to help you set it free!

  • 6. Paris-too young to be mom yet  |  December 15, 2008 at 11:57 pm

    I’m allways shocked to hear that there are dictionaries that are specially designed for…….kids! Are we so dumb when we are below 10?
    hell no, it’s insulting to humanity to disregard anyone with single digit age as a mental retard who can’t search a real dictionary!
    I loved my parent’s dictionary, and used to sneak downstairs to use it whereas our stupid teacher had asked our parents to buy a “child designed” dictionary.
    Guess why? most words I was looking for were NOT in the child dictionary!

    If we do not want our society to be dumbed down, we shall first acknowledge that children are learning humans who deserve real knowledge, not an light version for allegedly “not ready yet to understand” people.
    I believe christmas is right time to open that issue, as most parents are ready to shower their kids with stupid toys and games.
    Maybe some ferns, moss and heather would be more exciting than a toxic plastic doll…

    Thanks Kim, you taught me a new English word today: heather! I thought it was a firstname only…

  • 7. thinkingshift  |  December 16, 2008 at 12:13 am

    Hi Paris
    The argument goes that little hands and fingers need a special dictionary – not one that is too heavy, hence less words. But I well remember growing up. My grand-aunt was an elocution teacher and before going to bed at night when I stayed with her, we’d open up these huge dictionaries (one each) and choose a word at random, read the definition and use it in a sentence. When I was teaching primary kids, this is an activity I’d get them to do. I never worried about having to read a humungous, heavy dictionary and I was excited to learn new words and found it a wonderful learning challenge to learn as many new words as I could.

    You have a great idea Paris – parents should give dictionaries to kids for Xmas presents. I’m sure some do but the majority I suspect hand out the iPods, electronic games and so on.


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