(An ode to words removed from the 2008 Oxford Junior Dictionary, a dictionary aimed at children ages 7 to 9, concluding with the newly-added words.)

I saw two spaniels in the Sprint store yesterday.

I drank two glasses of Moroccan mint tea, and I saw a photograph (amazing!) of a spider eating a minnow in my Fascinating World of Animals.  This same book taught me how to differentiate between several types of scorpions, constrictors, and adders.

My friend, chased by a rhino in South Africa, was worried this week (back in London) that he dropped his lens cap and maybe some pelican might swallow it and die.  The loss distracted him from the joy of his slideshow, so even his photos of the baby cheetah (or perhaps it was a leopard) and a stalking panther reminded him of his ultimate concern.

I talked to at least three different people this week about how much I love bacon.  The poet John Casteen cures his own bacon, which made me admire him immediately.  My husband doesn’t eat bacon, but not because he believes it a sin to eat pork.  He likes it, just like he likes oysters, but he claims he had to draw the line.  “Mussels?” I ask.  When I ask, “Pickled herring?” he just looks at me and shakes his head.

Obama’s no monarch, but still folks say coronation rather than inauguration. If Michelle were a duchess and Obama a duke, would the talking heads still be talking about her sleeveless dresses?

In a decade when we ought to be highly aware of the frailty of empire, a little girl in my life still keeps goldfish.  The girl can’t have a gerbil, or hamster, or ferret, or guinea pig, but her mother has conceded to maintaining the barely perceptible rotation of fish.

Sometimes, when the girl was smaller, we would go over our animals: a colt is a baby horse; a cygnet is a baby swan; a drake is a male duck; a bullock is a mature male steer, which is like a cow with different reproductive parts.  She lives in the city, and we thought it was important that she know that an ox is an ox and a steer is a steer, and a pregnant cow produces her milk.

Where we spent Christmas this year, there was ivy, but no holly or mistletoe. Our host sang carols.  She even wore a hat to make her look like an elf.  Once she spent November in England, so at Christmas dinner that year each person had a cracker.  We ate chestnut soup.  She’s no saint, but the minister and I like her.  When I was christened she was there.  They probably read a psalm, and I trust that the bishop, in the pulpit, asked if she would teach me to be a good disciple.

On my street, right here in San Francisco, I see three nuns nearly every day.  Once or twice a month I see a monk.  I live near a nunnery, and there’s a monastery somewhere in the county.  I don’t know what parish it is. I’ve never seen a vicar.  I’ve never sat in a pew in their chapel, nor walked down their aisle to pray at their altar, but I like how the abbey looks from outside.  In the winter I sometimes stop to see if they’ve put up a manger scene.

This time of year everything’s in bloom.  The bluebells, the buttercup, carnations, clover, crocus, dandelions, heather, hazel, gorse, lavender, pansies, poppies, tulips, and violets.  My allergies have kicked me in the ass.  Soon, though, we’ll get the fruits of all these flowers: Almonds, apricots, blackberry pie, gooseberry pie, hazelnut bread, leek soup, melon for breakfast, peach nectar, nectarines, prunes (what an ugly word for dried plums!), rhubarb pie, spring turnip greens (perfect with a little olive oil, pepper, and parmesan), or spinach salad with roasted walnuts on top.  Oh, to sit by a brook by a willow and picnic on that!  Maybe I’d sit by the ash tree or the beech.  The horse chestnut?  The sycamore?  Perhaps I’d spy a heron.  Perhaps a beaver, a kingfisher, a stork, a lark. Or a thrush or a magpie or a wren?  Maybe, just once, I’d see a newt or a stoat or an otter out of the zoo. Maybe even a weasel or starling.  Though, if I brought the poodle, little devil, none of those would show themselves to me.

If I brought the corgi along, little goblin, only the ravens would show.  It would soon be late in the season, the whole pasture turned to bramble.  We’d be on to eating poultry roasted with parsnips, the pickled radish I love. We’d make something wonderful with fungus, like a hearty mushroom soup.  Maybe we’d bake a whole head of cauliflower with currying spices.  For breakfast we’d decide between boxes of rolled, steel cut, or Irish oats, all brought in from a distance by diesel trucks.  My sweetheart would go on about how we could learn to make porridge from the acorns that abounded around us.  The season’s natural allotment.  I’d say I’d rather raise a piglet to a boar and cure salami.  I’d say I’d rather track a doe and eat venison for days. He’d stare at me, my loose eyeglasses, high heels, these sheaves of paper all around, and say I’d be better suited to tearing the limbs from a lobster.

I’ve never seen a porcupine, but on our honeymoon we saw two porpoise.  When I was in Antarctica I saw one emperor penguin.  The chinstrap, nearby, was dwarfed.

Someone told me the other day they had a glass of absinthe (it’s legal again), but they were disappointed because they didn’t realize it would taste like liquorice.

They told me those were the words they took out and these were the words they put in, and I thought perhaps I should blog about it.  Everyone has broadband these days.  We can all claim celebrity.  We can be boisterous or brainy; our lives can be a cautionary tale.    We can donate our hours to supporting endangered species, getting biodegradable bags in the stores.  It’s not compulsory, this is a democratic process, no need to do anything that might strain the emotionsBungee jumping, for instance, is not for everyone on this committee, that’s just common sense.  No need to create conflict where there is none, we’re all tolerant here.  Interdependent, certainly, but willing to negotiate. I told myself I wouldn’t come off as a creep.  I told myself no one respected vandalism.  I told myself to turn off my MP3 player for a minute and listen to my voicemail. The message told me someone sent some information about the food chain as an attachment.  It took a lot of time to cut and paste all the bullet points and the block graph, and then I realized it was all in the database already and I could just export the information from the chatroom.  Sometimes I’m still an analogue girl in a digital world.    I worry, sometimes, they might take my citizenship away because I don’t always know the right idiom, I don’t speak in the colloquial language because it wasn’t on the curriculum. I’m afraid they might classify me as chronologically inappropriate to cope.  I worry about that like I worry about drought.  It all goes back to my childhood.  That much is not up for debate.  I’ve stashed 500 Euro just in case.  I’ve always thought they might be kinder to me in the EU.  They have the apparatus to deal with girls like me.  Lasses who love alliteration and also square numbers.  Girls who grind their own incisors when they sleep.

Originally Published: April 16th, 2009

Poet and editor Camille T. Dungy was born in Denver but moved often as her father, an academic physician, taught at many different medical schools across the country. She earned a BA from Stanford University and an MFA from the University of North Carolina, Greensboro.   Dungy’s full-length poetry publications include Trophic...

  1. April 16, 2009
     Don Share


  2. April 16, 2009
     Miriam Levine

    Lovely lilt of absurdity!

  3. April 16, 2009
     Dizmahn Jah

    It was the time to make a stand\r
    In a life of misapplied appallingness.\r

    It was time to lend a hand\r
    In the electro-realm of saint and sinner.\r

    TV was what made the us in US who we are\r
    Obama oh bam air, bam it real good, sink\r

    That new deal woh er pickled in O'Leary\r
    O'Reilly, O'Hare and O'Hara, cuz their aint\r

    No one as American as Barack O'Bama. Camelot\r
    Part II: The Uncheating Years. No Sleaze.\r

    It was time to spend the money. Make it funny\r
    Extend the line to its limit, re-engineer\r

    Credit - the very concept of it, cash itself\r
    Banking and fractions and things which sound\r

    Easy - sleazy, make it uppey as we go. They\r
    All said it was correct, sounds about right\r

    That it was so and thus, being US, we know\r
    Us is untied, our tether-stone lode lost\r

    No longer, in the realm of Obama we all bow\r
    Before we vomit. Wasn't it You who stole\r

    The gold of Cherokee and Shy Ann aboriginal\r
    America You are a phantom, imaginative boss\r

    Us stated plainly, truth, the real deal RD\r
    Fediad and the ford, gae bolg belly-spear\r

    Nothing makes sense but US and THEM lives\r
    Robbed, flogged, manacled and shackled\r

    Founded US and them who no longer count\r
    Because, because s/he is working it out\r

    How to be a better word left in: America\r
    Us R U sell, brand, famous last wish, cake\r

    Candle and flame dim now it is time to ask\r
    What does Climate Change do for US, for ME\r

    ME ME, poor ole liddle i downtrod, America?\r
    U R U - who are you America and why steer\r

    Blodwyn so, make a wish and go, go, go now\r
    Or forever hold me in your arms and let\r

    love, simple us, no fuss, lead US to light\r
    A flag, buy some rope, ask of the bonfire\r

    What do you Love oh hot heated heart of am\r
    eric A Man with your face so cool, head\r

    So full of reality from TV NOW !! NOW !!\r
    America i think it is time to spend again\r

    Burn more carb, make more for US, US, ME\r
    The economy demands we blow up the past\r

    Turn oil top plastic, buy it sell it, love\r
    That plastic mirage, invent more Credit\r

    Debit da man, wimmin no longer shop but\r
    US, we, me you - can stock up with a fella\r

    Rock on America, make it sing of what is\r
    NOW america, you're a lady (i think) i Am\r

    Eric a man every second day and nights\r
    Divide into you and am Erica. i want\r

    To have yr babies, populate the planet\r
    With children of US and them, they can \r

    Make it happen. Show me the money America.\r
    Show me the effin cash, right effin now.\r

    This is serious poetry, not an effin joke.

  4. April 17, 2009
     Martin Earl


    This is the most beautiful blog I’ve ever read. \r

    Where do we go from here? You’ve reinvented the whole platform.\r

    “This time of year everything’s in bloom.” \r

    Thank you this brilliant piece.\r


  5. April 17, 2009

    Perhaps your pithy portmanteau should be added to 2009 Oxford Junior Dictionary.\r

    great read!

  6. April 22, 2009
     Beth Hessel-Robinson


    Your meaty and delightful poem made me want to cry. How can we delete from our youngsters' vocabulary words like herring and buttercup, heron and psalm, words that sing and tilt our world toward dirt and sky, and replace with such ether-world, meaningless, unsinging words such as broadband, celebrity and apparatus? How will new poets be born?\r
    Thank you for your eulogy. BHR

  7. April 22, 2009
     Jamie Burkitt

    I had no idea the powers that be pulled this kind of crap. Who ARE these people? More importantly, how does removing words help anyone? Words being so dangerous and useless and all... :-I