Here is a paragraph from The Running Hare: The Secret Life of Farmland (2016) by John Lewis-Stempel.

Quite aside from the de-naturing of contemporary childhood, more about collecting apps for Apple iPhones than scrumping apples, there was always the terrible destructivity of butterfly collecting. Due to the collectors the ineffability of evolution is better understood; minute wing variation in the pretty marsh fritillary, discovered Professor E. B. Ford, was no accident but a real, living adjustment to environment. Neither can the collectors be blamed for the butterflies we have lost, in the Lady Bracknell understanding of the word, such as the English large copper, the chequered skipper, the English large blue . . . Pollution, agribusiness, infrastructural development are the true butterfly-killers.

What does "in the Lady Bracknell understanding of the word" mean here? What does "the word" refer to?

I assume that Lady Bracknell is the character from The Importance of Being Earnest. I read the play, but still could not get a clue.

1 Answer 1


The reference is to the following well-known exchange from The Importance of Being Earnest:

Lady Bracknell. Now to minor matters. Are your parents living? (Turning to Jack.)

Jack. I have lost both my parents.

Lady Bracknell. To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.

Oscar Wilde (1895). The Importance of Being Earnest, act I.

So “the word” is “lost” and the point Lewis-Stempel is making that the butterflies weren’t “lost” by accident or misfortune, they were destroyed by carelessness, negligence, and greed.

  • 2
    Thank you so much for the explanation Gareth! I am translating Lewis-Stempel's book to Chinese. I will include it as an annotation.
    – toga_m
    Commented Apr 7, 2020 at 10:00
  • @toga_m Good to know this site can help translators! Btw, you can mark Gareth's answer as correct by accepting it using the checkmark on the left (below the voting buttons).
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Apr 7, 2020 at 17:12
  • @Randal'Thor Just accepted the answer. Thanks for letting me know.
    – toga_m
    Commented Apr 8, 2020 at 0:19

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.