The case of the disappearing acorn

Margaret Atwood and other literary giants have spoken out recently against the dropping of various nature words from the Oxford Junior dictionary.

Some of the dropped words  include acorn, blackberries, minnow ,buttercup, catkin, cauliflower, chestnut, clover, hamster, heron, herring, kingfisher, lark, leopard, lobster, magpie, minnow, mussel, newt, otter, ox, oyster ,panther.almond, beaver,blackberry and crocus.

(One word that did surprise me was “beaver’. But then I am a Canadian and the beaver is the symbol of my country. The average Oxford junior dictionary reader may not share my interest in large rodents with flat tails, a good work ethic and high pest potential.)

These nature words have been replaced in the Oxford Junior dictionary by words that illustrate  our current tech savvy.

Instead of “A is for Acorn, B is for Buttercup, C is for Crocus”, we have “A is for Analog, B is for Broadband, C is for Cut and Paste”.

Spokespersons for the publication say that today’s children no longer use these words, no longer see these things and seldom go outside to try to see them. On the other hand, they do understand the Internet and the concept of cutting and pasting, for example, is well known.

Atwood and her colleagues are dismayed because today’s children don’t have the opportunity to get outdoors as much as their parents did and if they don’t see these words in books, the words and their meanings will disappear.

Same issue: different response. Both legitimate.

From the outset, I have to say that I write this as someone who knows what an acorn is and who, as a child, tasted several and found them edible. I have caught minnows in a pail and put a buttercup blossom against my throat to see if I liked butter. I have taken pictures of a beaver in the ditch that runs in front of my house and have chased magpies away from the dog dish.

I can remember gathering acorns under the farmyard oak tree. I grew up on stories of the industrious squirrel who stowed his nuts away for a snowy day and thereby lived to see the next spring. My grandmother said that the more acorns there were and the  thicker the shell on each, the harder the winter was going to be.

And I grew up on axioms such as “big oaks from little acorns grow’ and “the acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree.” Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn.”

My world has been enriched on several different levels by little acorns and,big oak trees.

But am I worried because the Oxford Junior Dictionary does not contain the word ‘acorn’? I don’t think so.

I’m willing to bet that a seven year old who understands the term ‘cut and paste’ also knows how to google something on the internet.  Google ‘oak tree seed’ and you get more than one and a half million hits. ‘Oak nut’ gets you 12.5 million and ‘acorn’ itself more than 41 million (although not all of them have anything to do with oak trees).

There are other books that contain the word or pictures that illustrate it – other dictionaries, picture books, story books, poems and rhymes.

I’m an acorn, small and round,
Lying on the cold, cold ground.
People pass and step on me,
That’s why I’m all cracked, you see.
I’m a nut, (clap, clap)
I’m a nut (clap, clap)
I’m a nut, (clap, clap)
I’m a nut. (clap, clap)

 We just need to remember to open those books for our children.

Better yet, we just need to spend time outside with our children and talk together about what we see.





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