The Lost Words
I have always been fascinated by milkweed pods. I love their silken threads, the promise of all that’s to come, the lushness of the pods, the scatter of spider-web-like strands, the home they provide for Monarch caterpillars and eggs that will become Monarch butterflies. I find them fascinating, beautiful, and full of promise. Milkweed is also critical for Monarch Butterflies—they cannot live without Milkweed, so planting Common Milkweed is a great thing you can do for the environment, for butterflies, and for the planet (But! It has to be the RIGHT kind of milkweed! Some milkweed is dangerous for Monarch butterflies! But more on that later!)
I also love the word pod. I like to roll it around in my mouth before I say it. I like to say it slowly. It’s a great word. So, this is about words. I recently read Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris’ The Lost Words: A Spell Book and I fell in love with it.
Did you know that there are words we use everyday that didn’t used to exist? Have you ever googled something? Yup. It might not be a new word for you, but in the history of the English language, it’s a new word. How about Instagram? Adorbs? Rando? Gochujang? These are all new words that were added to the English dictionary (specifically the Oxford English Dictionary and Merriam-Webster) in 2018. Now, the dictionary isn’t the absolute rule for language; we all use words that are local to where we live. Where I grew up, a meat and cheese sandwich on a long roll with lettuce and tomatoes was called a hoagie. In other places it’s called a sub, a submarine or a grinder. Just yesterday, I went to a restaurant and the menu had a sloppy joe on it. I thought that was ground meat cooked in tomato sauce served on a hamburger bun (trust me. I have eaten TONS of sloppy joes on camping trips). Nope. On that menu, it was a corned beef sandwich with cheese, russian dressing, and coleslaw! (By the way, in my opinion, that was ALSO WRONG. I still think I’m right about sloppy joes…)
But, what dictionaries do, is show how language is changing and provide a record of words that are commonly used, in this case in English, that we mostly agree on. Language changes. As we invent new things or use words in a different ways, we need new words or new definitions. We sculpt language to show how we think about the world. So, new words are important to communicate new ideas.
The Lost Words: A Spell Book looks at words we are losing: words that aren’t in fashion, words that we don’t use, words that we’ve forgotten. The writers say:
Once upon a time, words began to vanish from the language of children. They disappeared so quietly that at first almost no one noticed—fading away like water on stone. The words were those that children used to name the natural world around them: acorn, adder, bluebell, bramble, conker—gone!
The book combines beautiful illustrations with a poem for each word and a spell page, where you find the words, lost in the illustrations. You conjure them back into being by finding them and saying them. I love the interactive style of the book as you play with letters to find the word. And, I think because you do a little work to find the word, you’ll also remember new words better.
My favorite lost words in this book are adder, bramble, lark, and magpie. I’m not going to tell you what they mean, because I hope you’ll find this book at your local library or, that you might even be lucky enough to add this book to your collection. I also learned a new word I didn’t know: conker.
I love the beauty of this book, the idea behind it, and the words the Robert and Jackie brought to life on the pages of this book. This is a book that you can be quiet with and get lost in. It’s a book for daydreaming, learning, and remembering. Jackie’s illustrations are so beautiful. I want to step into the pages. I want to get lost in these scenes! And Robert’s poems make me think about what’s around me. His love of language—how words get used—springs into my brain. I want to repeat the words over and over (like a spell! Get it?). This is a book that conjures (another great word) the best ideas in the best language and brings them into your imagination beautifully. Even if you’ve never seen a bramble, I promise you won’t forget it after you read this book.
I think it’s also important that we pay attention to words that are going away. Some words fall out of fashion. Some words, we learn we shouldn’t use anymore because they are hurtful or mean. But some words, we are losing because of the changes that are happening to our environment. I think these words are important to hold on to. Do we really want a world without butterflies? Without icebergs? Without polar bears? If not, then we need to hold onto words like milkweed so that we can name it, plant it, and use it to create the kind of world we want to live in. Remember, words help us to describe the world we live in. If our nature words disappear, then so too does nature.
I hope you’ll find this book and fall in love with it. And, I hope you’ll learn some new words to help build the world you want.
If you’re interested in Milkweed, here’s a great article written by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
More about Monarch Butterflies
Interested in how words get into the dictionary? Andrew Clements’ Frindle is the hilarious story of how Nick Allen creates a new word for something you use everyday… and gets into a war with his teacher! It’s a funny & fascinating story that shows how words we use everyday could become official dictionary words!