Losing something is always sad: as a journalist, losing words feels especially poignant.
Until recently, I had no idea that a couple of years back the Oxford University Press began to delete a whole series of words from its Oxford Children’s Junior Dictionary to make way for new, “seemingly more relevant and familiar words”.
In 2017 Robert MacFarlane and Jackie Morris published the book The Lost Words – A Spell Book, which celebrated those apparently not-as-useful-as-before words, which rather poignantly seem for the most part rooted in the natural world. Among them are words such as ‘acorn', ‘conker’, ‘adder’, 'Kingfisher’, ‘lark', ‘fern’ and ‘willow’.
Now, a new exhibition entitled The Lost Words – Forget Me Not has been inspired by the book, showcasing artists’ responses through the form of lettering. A number of the UK’s leading lettering artists were asked to choose a ‘recently-lost’ word to carve, in another callback to a process that’s entirely rooted in tradition.
The pieces will be accompanied by the Oxford English Dictionary entries for each of the chosen words, as well as the evidence of their first use. "We are living in an age of loss. Decline, disappearance and extinction are all underway in the natural world at alarming rates," says MacFarlane.
"This loss is happening on our doorsteps here in Britain; in our fields, woods and cities, where species from skylarks to starlings are slipping away from the landscape and from our lives. The work in this exhibition stands as a stay against this slippage.
"What could be stronger than stone as a means of inscribing and remembering? Each work names and honours an everyday plant or creature. I am dazzled by the craft of the makers whose work is present here; by the combination of artistic vision and manual skill on display…Here is an artistic diversity that recognises nature's diversity, and seeks to preserve it."
One of the artists, Anna Louise Parker, chose to illustrate the word heron, “as a heron often comes to our local park pond,” she explains. “It is a privilege to see it, such a strange looking bird, it seems of a distant land or even a past world. It reminds me of the vast and beautiful natural world that is out there, not so far away, but often overlooked in the city parks as children are perhaps more interested in sport and play areas.”
The Lost Words – forget me not runs from 15 March – 26 May 2019 at The Lettering Arts Centre, Snape Maltings, Suffolk.