Words aren’t generally religious per se, but some words are clearly associated with Christianity. Not just technical terms like sanctification or dispensationalism but everyday words like bishop, chapel, devil, disciple, minister, sin. Words children use.
Nevertheless, more than a decade ago, editors of the Oxford Junior Dictionary removed those very words, and other Christian terms, from their most recent edition. In December 2008, Elena Garcia published “Oxford Junior Dictionary Drops Christian Words” in the Christian Post Reporter.
The latest edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary has dropped many words associated with Christianity and British history that were found in earlier versions.
Christian-related words like “bishop,” “chapel,” “disciple,” “minister,” “sin,” and “devil,” have been replaced by words like “blog,” “biodegradable,” “MP3 player,” “democratic,” and “celebrity,” in the 2007 edition of the popular children’s dictionary in the United Kingdom.
This culling came to light when a woman from Northern Ireland noticed words were missing in her children’s dictionary. The dictionary’s editorial leaders explained the rationale behind the changes.
People don’t go to Church as often as before. Our understanding of religion is within multiculturalism, which is why some words such as “Pentecost” or “Whitsun” would have been in 20 years ago but not now.
Change the language if you want to change the culture
The article includes this further response from the “head of children’s directories at Oxford University Press.”
We are limited by how big the dictionary can be – little hands must be able to handle it … In the last 40 years our range of children’s dictionaries has increased from two to 17, and as such the total number of words … has significantly increased across the range. … Our dictionaries are developed through a rigorous research programme, analyzing how children are currently using language. They also reflect the language that children are encourage to use in the classroom, as required by the national curriculum. This ensures they remain relevant and beneficial for children’s education.
Garcia’s article quotes Catholic moral theologian William Smith, “All social engineering is preceded by verbal engineering.” That’s another way to say something we have written about repeatedly, before you change a society, you change the language.
Webster’s original dictionary reflected biblical meanings of words
Our friend Elizabeth Youmans, who first put us on to Webster’s 1828 dictionary, responded to the Garcia article with her characteristic clarity.
This is something that Noah Webster, author of America’s first English dictionary (1828) understood. In fact, it was the reason he undertook such an arduous task and why he spent 20 years writing it. He understood that the citizens of our new nation would lose their understanding of the vocabulary contained in the founding documents of the new constitutional Republic and would revert to the worldview of the British monarchy. He preserved for Americans the vocabulary of true liberty and Christian self- and civil government, which is rooted in Christ and the Bible! This prompted him to not only research the root meanings of American English words, but he also went into the Scripture to see how God used these words!
Webster’s 1828 “American Dictionary of the English Language” is the only dictionary ever published in the world that has biblical meanings of words. He fought for the ratification of the U.S. Constitution as well as for maintaining the worldview of our founders, who understood that words are the building blocks of ideas and that “ideas have consequences”. Webster studied the law, but is better known as the “Father of American Education”. He wrote the Blue-Back Spelling Book, many grammars and history books and founded Amherst College in his older age. His famous statement about education is, “Education is useless without the Bible.” He would be horrified to see the modern dictionary with his name on it.
Some further reading
Darrow Miller and Friends comprises a rich resource of material about the importance of words in shaping cultures. Here are a few examples of blog posts on this vital subject.
- What Difference Do Words Make?
- Whose Dictionary Do We Use? How the New Religion Advances by Redefining Words
- Biblical Language and the “Pregnant Man”
- Truth, Rhetoric, and Freedom: Words Matter
- A Personal Story About Why Words Matter
– Gary Brumbelow