Alex Steer

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Children's dictionaries are a lesson for us all

226 words

Everybody is once again up in arms about the decision by the editors of the Oxford Junior Dictionary to include a batch of new-fangled technology words, supposedly at the expense of good old-fashioned words from nature. This, from the piece linked above, gives a taste of the bile:

“A” should be for acorn, “B” for buttercup and “C” for conker, not attachment, blog and chatroom, according to a group of authors including Margaret Atwood and Andrew Motion who are “profoundly alarmed” about the loss of a slew of words associated with the natural world from the Oxford Junior Dictionary, and their replacement with words “associated with the increasingly interior, solitary childhoods of today”.

I disagree strongly with this as both an ex dictionary editor (disclosure: I worked on the OED) and as someone who now works in communications.

The point of a children's dictionary is to help children find the meanings of words that they encounter in daily life but whose meanings they might not know. The words are chosen using a corpus of texts, from books to blog posts, that children actually read. They are not designed to make adults feel warm and fuzzy, or to make political points about the nature of childhood.

Design for your audience, in other words, and be honest.

# Alex Steer (13/01/2015)