Stefan Fatsis is back with another thoughtful and amusing piece on dictionaries and popular culture. His January 31 New Yorker article, "Panic at the Dictionary," takes on the prescriptivist/descriptivist wars fought in the early 1960s with the release of Webster’s Third New International Dictionary. Webster's Third allowed previously sanctioned words such as "irregardless," and howls of protest arose from newspapers, magazines, and critics.
Fatsis reports that a similar furore has arisen with recent editions of the Oxford Junior Dictionary. Apparently people have been noticing that all sorts of words have gone missing. Expunged words include almond, blackberry, minnow, budgerigar, moss, fern, buttercup, saint, chapel, psalm, nun,vicar, and doubtless many more. At the same time, many "new" words have appeared, many of them referring to modern technology and media--also a shock to those who grieve at the supplanting of the countryside or the spiritual by sophisticated and addictive gadgetry.
But Fatsis offers strong arguments in support of the descriptivist position. For one thing, he writes, dictionaries are a zero-sum game. Dictionary publishing is a business, and the product must be attractive to the prospective user. If new words go in--and they must, to keep the work relevant--some old words must go out. Moreover, the Oxford Junior Dictionary has not really come down on the side of technology vs. nature. As Fatsis eloquently puts it, "The job of the editors of the Oxford Junior Dictionary is no more to get children off of screens and into the woods than it is to reverse global warming or reform FIFA."
You can read the full article here: http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/panic-dictionary