Software Musings

Pop went the Weasel

Posted on: 14/12/2008

I’m sure that most people reading this posting will also have read the numerous news items and other blog postings regarding the Oxford University Press’ decision to remove certain words from its Children’s Dictionary.

I would like to add my voice to the chorus of dissenters. It is important that our younger generation, when they reach the age of discernment, engage properly in political debate. How on earth can they do this without words like “weasel” and “adder”? How can we instill pride of country into them without “empire”? Losing the religious terms (“holly”, “ivy”, “mistletoe”) will turn out a generation without the basic words to discuss Druidism when the Druids come knocking on the door on a Sunday morning.

I must say that I’m not a ferret lover (probably the world’s most evil animal) and losing that word doesn’t worry me much. Nor the words to do with sex and sexuality that I’m sure the previous generation of schoolchildren giggled over: “oyster”, “vicar”, “thrush”, “gooseberry”, “oats” and “pansy”.

But what about the words that are being added? I suppose the most promising is “square number” and the least “creep”. That “creep” has a Uriah Heep flavour to it and I hope that the dictionary already contains “obsequious” so that it can be cross-referenced.

All in all (which it never is), the children seem to have lost more than they have gained. A good lesson for them in these times of plunging stock markets.


2 Responses to "Pop went the Weasel"

I’m not sure the word “evil” can be applied to an entire species, as morality seems to be an evolved set of rules for governing relationships between members of the same species.

However, if we can put that aside and indulge in judgementalism: I’d like to nominate the cuckoo for the world’s most evil animal. Surely brood parasitism is more repugnant than a little vicious predation. The haunting sweetness of their call resonating through the forest is meager atonement for being murderous from the very moment of hatching.

It’s sad to see that the majority of the “out” words seem to be related to nature. It seems that the inexorable drive to urbanization is leaving successive generations ever more disconnected from the simple pleasure of observing the natural world first hand.

Not to get side-tracked by your ferret phobia… If some animals can be thought capable of malice, then it follows that other animals must be thought capable of benevolence. Or can they be both good and evil, just like us? I don’t see why not.

The main thing that distinguishes human beings from the other animals is our talent for connecting one idea with another, and our ability to find a whole realm of associations in the words we use from a very early age, like 2 year old Alexander already thinking of cake, singing, and blowing out the candles when he hears the word “birthday”. That’s why the obliteration of such resonant nouns as “liquorice”, “mistletoe” and indeed “psalm” from a modern child’s acquired vocabulary (never mind their interesting spellings) and to substitute concepts of a probably more limited lifespan, such as “MP3 player” and “chatroom” is such a tragedy.

Anyway I’ve now published my own blog post about all this, in case you’d like to read more of my rant.

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December 2008
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The author of this blog used to be an employee of Nortel. Even when he worked for Nortel the views expressed in the blog did not represent the views of Nortel. Now that he has left, the chances are even smaller that his views match those of Nortel.
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