Jiddlin with words until I am zam-zody in the head!
Published 22/04/2015 | 02:30
I have just finished reading a fantastic new book called Landmarks, by leading British nature and travel writer Robert MacFarlane. It is informative, entertaining and uplifting.
It is described on the cover as a field guide to the literature of nature, - it's also a vast glossary of thousands of remarkable and evocative terms from the languages and many dialects of Britain and Ireland.
It is all that, a celebration and defence of the language of the landscape, done in such a way that it makes me want to learn these words and mind these words, which are so evocative and powerful. Almost every page turned triggers a "I know exactly what that is" or a "there's a word for that?" moment.
For example, smeuse (pronounced smee-ooze) is a Sussex dialect noun for a hole in the base of a hedge made by the repeated passage of a small animal. In Northamptonshire, bull-pated applies to a tuft of grass driven by the wind into a quiff, i.e. standing up like the tuft on a bull's forehead.
Éit is the practice of placing quartz stones in moorland streams so that they would sparkle in moonlight and thereby attract salmon to them in the late summer and autumn (Scots Gaelic, Isle of Lewis). In East Anglia, a whelm is half a hollow tree, placed with its hollow side downwards, to form a small watercourse.
Words are being lost because we spend more time indoors and at screens, particularly and ever-increasingly so in the case of children.
Macfarlane refers to the 2007 issue of the Oxford Junior dictionary in which almost 20 words relating to nature - including acorn, buttercup, conker and kingfisher - were removed to make room for the likes of attachment, blog and chatroom.
The publishers pointed out that the dictionary needs to reflect the lives of contemporary children and, despite an uproar from educators and naturalists, the words were not reinstated in the 2012 edition. But surely there should be room for both. And I expect I am being old-fangled here, but do the second set of words not sound very dull compared to the first?