You might think, why does it matter? It matters because if it weren't for words and the worlds they conjure up, you wouldn't have Dr Seuss's Fiffer-feffer-feff or even his Zizzer-zazzer-zuzz. It matters because if we don't have a word for it, we can't understand it completely. Or as philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein said, "The limits of my language means the limits of my world." And surely you don't want your kids' world to start and end in a chatroom?
This is where my hero Robert Macfarlane of the Clan of Lost Words comes into the picture. The author of the brilliant book Landmarks is like the knight-errant of the stolen buttercup. He is single-handedly trying to save our language and our landscape from becoming a linguistic wasteland. He has meticulously collected - little idiom squirrel that he is - expressions and words from all around the UK, which relate to our natural world but are sadly fading into extinction. Words like smeuse an English Dialect noun for "the gap in the base of a hedge made by the regular passage of a small animal". Now that you know what a smeuse is, you might suddenly find yourself pointing one out. "Check out that giant smeuse kids, looks like your father fancied a shortcut on the way home from the pub." Or doofers, Scots for "horse shit". Aka a brilliant word you can happily use as an expletive as nobody but you will know what it means.
This weekend, we joined Macfarlane in his quest and tried to undo some of the word-thieving that has been going on at Oxford University Press. I told the kids they were the Dr Seuss of nature, word alchemists, magicians of meaning. They could invent any expressions they liked relating to our activities in the wild. We would write them down and they would become part of our family lexicon. So climbing to the very top of a fallen tree on the Heath became Titanic walking, or two fairly adorable children rambling across the landscape together became cruteling, or perhaps my favourite, crittlecronks - the exposed spikey remnants of the roots of a tree after it has come down in a storm. So dictionary people, you may take our buttercup, but you will never take our tongues.
To join us in our quest to add more words to our natural world...
All you need:
Top tip: Read your kids a Dr Seuss story before you set off, just to get their imagination going. The man is a genius when it comes to invented creatures, places and activities. After all he gave us Foo-Foo-the-Snoo and the Tuttle Tuttle tree.
Top quote: "The limits of my language means the limits of my world." Philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein