Friday, March 6, 2015

For blackberry, read Blackberry.

 Where is modern ¨culture¨ leading?

 From the extraordinary article by Robert McFarlane:
Under pressure, Oxford University Press revealed a list of the entries it no longer felt to be relevant to a modern-day childhood. The deletions included acorn, adder, ash, beech, bluebell, buttercup, catkin, conker, cowslip, cygnet, dandelion, fern, hazel, heather, heron, ivy, kingfisher, lark, mistletoe, nectar, newt, otter, pasture and willow. The words taking their places in the new edition included attachment, block-graph, blog, broadband, bullet-point, celebrity, chatroom, committee, cut-and-paste, MP3 player and voice-mail. As I had been entranced by the language preserved in the prose‑poem of the “Peat Glossary”, so I was dismayed by the language that had fallen (been pushed) from the dictionary. For blackberry, read Blackberry.

Just as the Inuit have multiple words to describe ¨snow¨, McFarlane has been collecting place words and unusual terms for natural phenomena.
Ammil is a Devon term for the thin film of ice that lacquers all leaves, twigs and grass blades when a freeze follows a partial thaw, and that in sunlight can cause a whole landscape to glitter.

Shetlandic has a word, pirr, meaning “a light breath of wind, such as will make a cat’s paw on the water”.  
. . .a caochan, for instance, is “a slender moor-stream obscured by vegetation such that it is virtually hidden from sight”, while a feadan is “a small stream running from a moorland loch”, and a fèith is “a fine vein-like watercourse running through peat, often dry in the summer”.

In response, Blogger Risa Stephanie Bair composed a beautiful poem, which I can only suppose according to Oxford, present/future children will have no need or ability to understand.

 A Path

Along the new trail, built by no one I knew,
acorns had fallen by thousands, more than enough
to leave creatures dazed by too much fortune.

Conkers have tumbled among them, each
experimentally chipped and then rejected
by some set of tiny teeth. Hazel nuts

were better, it seems. Should an adder pass en route
to denning, amid this rich mast, amid
this late fall of goldened leaves of ash

and beech, I might merely step aside,
unalarmed as any fattened squirrel.
Across the pasture, I remember, past

the partly shaded ferns, cowslips, bluebells,
buttercups of spring and summer, where
falling water, catkin-patterned, drowned out

the cygnet's cry in an otter's teeth (witnessed
by a kingfisher, two low-flying larks and a heron),
a willow had leaned to hide that tiny sorrow

and also shade a loafing spotted newt.
The hill behind, where bees sought nectar of a kind
from sunburnt heather, swept up to a copse of oak,

wrapped in a druid's dream of mistletoe and ivy.
There I had paused for dandelion wine.
Perhaps the trail will help some find this place.

My children, do not forget there is a world.


  1. What chance does our environment stand ? The down grading of language is a loss on so many levels. Very sad indeed given the richness of english language.

  2. So I immediately asked Simon who is Devon born and bred what the word ammil meant, he had never heard of it, so further investigation, it is specifically from Dartmoor although this phenomenon does occur in other places. The word is probably derived from old English meaning enamelled.
    I don't know if you have ever seen the program 15 to one, it's a word game, Susie is the lexicographer, and was always coming up with the meaning and origins of words.

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  4. I frankly fear for a world where the words acorn and dandelion are replaced by celebrity and chat-room.

    We spent the weekend bravely cutting zarzas (in Castellano), silvas (in Gallego) or brambles (in English). All excellent words. :)

    I think Oxford Don JRR Tolkein must be spinning, wherever he is.