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Lost Words: Conversation is Key to Conservation

By January 28, 2022August 22nd, 2022No Comments
Heron © David Cook, a photo of a great blue heron from its shoulders to the top of its head. The heron is stationary with its beak pointed down and is seen in profile.
Heron © David Cook

By David Cook

The Oxford Junior Dictionary is a publication for children ages 7+ years that defines 10,000 words the publisher deems most popular in childhood conversation. In 2007, and again in 2012, nature words like acorn, buttercup, heron, and wren were removed to make room for technology words like analogue, cut-and-paste, and voicemail.

Celebrity authors and others vehemently protested, citing evidence that a connection to nature is imperative for mental health and learning, particularly within the dictionary’s target age group. The publisher defended its decision, reiterating that the publication was never intended as an exhaustive list of vocabulary but merely a reflection of the language of its time, informed by school curriculum, children’s most frequently misspelled words, and life experience of readers in the intended age group. 

As a nature photographer, I was appalled at this.  The fact that words like dandelion, doe, pelican, and poppy were, as the publisher said, not part of the “life experience” of young readers, saddened me. While these words may still be alive in the wild, children, many who have limited access to natural places, have been robbed of language that might help them imagine what exists beyond their doorsteps. It seems we should do something about that, to reconnect children of all ages to nature’s gifts and make the wild more relevant in their lives.

What role can nature photography play in shifting conversation? If a photo is worth a thousand words, can our photographs rejuvenate interest in the words the Oxford Junior Dictionary suggests are no longer relevant to children?

Editor’s Note: Some of David’s “Lost Words” images were featured on NANPA’s Instagram account during a takeover in January 2022. See the posts >

Let’s rediscover the Lost Words

So with nature as my example, I’m planting a seed and hoping you’ll help nurture the idea. I’ve asked NANPA to allow me to curate an iNaturalist collection project for NANPA members to contribute their observations of the Lost Words in real life. Our plan is to collect images throughout all seasons, then publish a free eBook featuring member-created images of the Lost Words. 

We can share our Lost Words eBook project at NANPA’s 2023 Nature Photography Summit in Tucson, among other places. Moreover, hopefully we can share this resource with children and their teachers, to help them understand how valuable and important nature is to their lives.

Bloom © David Cook, a closeup photo of a white trillium flower against a very dark green background.
Bloom © David Cook

How to Participate

There are two ways you can help with this project:

  • Contribute your images, and/or
  • Join the project curation team.

Contribute Your Images

If you have good images of one or more of the Lost Words, contribute them to the iNaturalist NANPA Lost Words eBook collection project

  1. Get an iNaturalist account (they are free) if you don’t already have one and join the NANPA Lost Words Project.
  2. Mine your photo catalog for images of one of the Lost Words taken within the last 2 years, or better yet, get out and take new photographs of one of the Lost Words.
  3. Add your observations to iNaturalist, and they will automatically be included in the NANPA Lost Words Project if you’ve joined it.

If you don’t already have photos of one the Lost Words in your archive, consider photographing one or more of the Lost Words in your area. This is a chance for NANPA to raise awareness of the Lost Words and for you to get one of your images in a NANPA eBook while also helping scientists with data via iNaturalist. That sounds like a win-win-win to me.

Help Curate Images

I’m also looking for help leading this project. We’re looking for volunteer curators who can review images submitted to the project and make selections for publication. If you are interested in helping curate this eBook, contact me at davidjcook@gmail.com.

The curation team will meet virtually about every other month to plan the eBook and review images from iNaturalist.

Guidelines for the NANPA Lost Words eBook Project

  • Images must be from active NANPA members
  • Images must be of one of the Lost Words listed on the project iNaturalist site and listed above
  • Images must be loaded to iNaturalist with the appropriate licensing (Attribution Non-Commercial or more permissive)
  • Images should be recent to underscore the existence of these subjects in the wild, so we ask for images taken after January 1, 2020
  • Images should not have been NANPA Showcase winners (Top 250) in 2020-2022

More about the Lost Words

A complete list of these Lost Words is included below.  In addition, you can read more about The Lost Words at these links

AshHeronPanther
BeaverHerringPelican
BeechHollyPoppy
BlackberryIvyPorcupine
BluebellKingfisherPorpoise
ButtercupLarkPrimrose
CloverLeopardRaven
CheetahLobsterStarling
ColtMagpieStork
CygnetMintSycamore
DandelionMistletoeThrush
DoeMusselViolet
FernNewtWeasel
FerretOtterWillow
FungusOysterWren
HeatherPansy

Of course, an eBook by NANPA members can’t be the end of the effort to re-prioritize these words and reconnect children with the natural world, but as I’ve learned from so many NANPA members whose work in conservation has inspired me, we have to start somewhere. I hope you’ll join me in observing, photographing, and sharing nature’s Lost Words in 2022.