ON THE WING

Mercury (Hobart) - Magazine - - GROWYOUROWN - WITH DON KNOWLER

My first close en­counter with birds came when a flock of blue tits flew through a class­room win­dow of the pri­mary school I at­tended in Britain in the 1950s. The ar­rival of the birds was op­por­tune be­cause that very morn­ing the class had had na­ture study, a core syl­labus at the time. Na­ture study took its place firmly along­side the Three Rs, read­ing, writ­ing and ’rith­matic.

Na­ture study meshed nicely with the first two be­cause, when it came to learn­ing to read, many of the pictures with words at­tached in our books por­trayed sym­bols of the wild world — an­i­mals, flow­ers and trees. They were fa­mil­iar, not ab­stract, and so through word as­so­ci­a­tion it was easy to learn how to read, write and spell their names.

With mem­o­ries of the days when I dis­cov­ered both birds and lit­er­a­ture, I was stag­gered re­cently to dis­cover the com­pil­ers of the Ox­ford Ju­nior Dic­tio­nary had deleted many words with as­so­ci­a­tions to the nat­u­ral world. They had been re­placed with words from a dif­fer­ent en­vi­ron­ment — the com­puter world.

To make way for mod­ern hi-tech terms such as Black­Berry, blog, voice­mail and broad­band, the lat­est edi­tion of the Ox­ford Ju­nior Dic­tio­nary has opted to ex­cise the real black­berry, or at least its orig­i­nal mean­ing. And no longer can a child check the dic­tio­nary to learn more about not just the black­berry, but the dan­de­lion, the acorn, ivy, poppy and wil­low.

Among bird names to van­ish are heron, king­fisher and budgeri­gar, and among an­i­mals, the beaver, por­cu­pine and por­poise.

Ac­cord­ing to Vi­neeta Gupta, who heads chil­dren’s dic­tio­nar­ies at Ox­ford Univer­sity Press, changes in the world were re­spon­si­ble for changes in the book.

“When you look back at older ver­sions of dic­tio­nar­ies, there were lots of ex­am­ples of flow­ers for in­stance,” she said. “That was be­cause many chil­dren lived in semiru­ral en­vi­ron­ments and saw the sea­sons. Nowa­days, the en­vi­ron­ment has changed.”

The 10,000 words and phrases in the ju­nior dic­tio­nary were se­lected us­ing sev­eral cri­te­ria, in­clud­ing how of­ten words would be used by young chil­dren.

Com­puter terms, many of them ab­stract like cy­berspace, are not the only new ones. Among ad­di­tions are celebrity and con­flict, which might say some­thing of the state of the world to­day, at least events that “trend” on the in­ter­net.

My dis­cov­ery of the changes to the dic­tio­nary came on a day when I read an­other re­port con­cern­ing the nat­u­ral world and the im­pact it can have on not so much the past, but the fu­ture.

The Age in Mel­bourne re­ported on the ben­e­fits of parks in ur­ban spa­ces. It said 40 years of re­search had demon­strated ex­po­sure to na­ture in­creased calm and ru­mi­na­tion, de­creased agi­ta­tion and ag­gres­sion and im­proved con­cen­tra­tion, mem­ory and creative thought.

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