By Katie Finch, Senior Nature Educator

An article came out this week that 566 new words were added to dictionaries this year. In addition, 2,604 existing words received new or updated definitions. Adding new words is a sign of a healthy language. As our society evolves, so does our language. Language is how we express ourselves, and share our thoughts and experiences.

As expected, a lot of the new words are technology-based, such as “chatbot” and “generative AI”.  Some speak to our increasingly stressed world, such as “decision fatigue”, “sleep debt” and “stress eating”. Other words reflect the change in how we create our families and accept who we love, such as “grandfamily” and “polysexual”.

We also absorb words from other cultures. Jolabokaflod, pronounced [yoh-luh-boh-kuh-flawd] is “an Icelandic tradition in which books are given as Christmas presents and opened on December 24, after which the evening is spent reading the books”.  

Many of these words don’t seem new. Language seems to be created in a bottom-up fashion. People develop words because they need them. As those words are used, their usage and definitions solidify. Many words finally jell into official acceptance and get documented in a dictionary.

When words aren’t used, they slowly disappear. It is actually much harder to get rid of a word than add one. But still, when’s the last time you heard someone say, “I’m glad I wore my heavy coat today. It’s frigorific!” We now say “frigid”. 

This recent talk about words we use reminds me of The Lost Words: A Spell Book. About fifteen years ago, some people noticed that words like “dandelion,” otter,” and “fern” were removed from the Oxford University Press Junior Dictionary. Upon further investigation, over 50 nature-based words were found missing. The dictionary was edited based on words that children were heard using – and not using. They were more often talking of keyboards than kingfishers. 

In response to this loss, Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris teamed up to write a book in 2017 of “spells” meant to conjure 20 of those lost words back into the lives of children and adults. While written in the United Kingdom, this beautifully illustrated, large-format book features many things in this region, including “acorn”, “heron” and “bluebell”.  

Language doesn’t just help us express ourselves, it is also a window into our values. We talk about the things that are important to us, that happen to us, that we see, touch, smell, taste and feel. If kids don’t pick up acorns, marvel at blooming bluebells, and call with the cackle of kingfishers, why would they talk about them?

We can still appreciate things without knowing their names. We do it all the time. And sometimes I wonder if names are really important. But all it takes to remind me they are is for someone to use or mistake my name. When someone calls me by name, I feel seen, known, and wanted. When someone mistakes my name, it feels the opposite.  

I remember being shocked when I heard about why this book was created. Here was just another problem too big to deal with. Here’s another indication that kids don’t know nature and we are creating a world where it is not valued.

But dealing with it is simple. Go outside. Experience the plants and animals around you. Ask what things are. And share those things. Using the names of plants and animals is a way of seeing them and acknowledging their value.

There is hope too. Another of the newest additions to the dictionary is the word “rewild”. The official definition is “to return to a more natural or wild state: to increase biodiversity and restore the natural processes of an ecosystem typically by reducing or ceasing human activity and reintroducing plant and animal species”.

It seems that the definition refers to the rewilding of ecosystems. But I think we can also rewild our language and therefore ourselves. I don’t think most of us will return to a wild state in which we forage for our own food and use pine needles as a pillow, but we can recognize how we live off the land and are not separate from nature. We are just one piece of it. 

It may seem challenging or impossible to take on another thing at this time of year. The hustle and bustle of the holiday season can seem overwhelming, even if you don’t want it to be. I get it. But sometimes art, in addition to nature, can be a comfort.  

A diverse group of musicians were also inspired by the Lost Words and created spell songs to call back these natural words. They now have two albums to inspire a reawakening of the love of nature with songs such as “Bird of the Blizzard” and “Heartwood”. The beginning lyrics from the song, “The Lost Words Blessing”,may provide some inspiration to do nothing but pause, perhaps in or around nature.

“Enter the wild with care my love and speak the things you see. Let new names take and root and thrive and grow.”  

I found this song, and others, a comfort that sometimes we don’t have to save the world. Noticing, being, breathing, talking can be enough- at least for now.

And if you celebrate or want to start celebrating jolabokaflod, The Lost Words: A Spell Book would make a comforting read to curl up with on December 24 or anytime this winter.   

Learn more about the lost words at

Audubon Community Nature Center builds and nurtures connections between people and nature. ACNC is located just east of Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown. The trails are open from dawn to dusk and birds of prey can be viewed anytime the trails are open. The Nature Center is open from 10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. daily except Sunday when it opens at 1 p.m. More information can be found online at or by calling (716) 569-2345.