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Evolving English: One Language, Many Voices – a free exhibition at the British Library until April 3

British Library


I was really tickled when I read one of the posters for the British Library’s current free exhibition – One Language, Many Voices.

“A man’s home is his castle, pad, dig, shack, roost, gaff, sock, crib, hame, place…”
Hame is a longstanding family joke at the cottage. I had never heard the word hame used to describe home before – apart from in a smart London drawing room, many years ago.

Fly with me back in time to 1989, the year that I became engaged to my ex-husband.  We had been invited to a celebratory lunch. Although I’d met the hostess many times before, I didn’t know her very well and my fiancé B was on his best behaviour. There was a certain tension in the air because this was the first time that he’d met this particular group.

B stood studying the large, interesting watercolour that hung over the mantelpiece in the elegant drawing room. Backs of chairs. Some figures. A beach and the sea beyond.

When our hostess appeared with a tray of drinks, B took a proffered glass and inquired, “Where exactly was this picture painted?”

Top marks for B. He had little interest in art.

The painting was executed at her parent’s house, so she replied, “Home.”
Now, our hostess had quite a posh voice.
B heard “Hame.”

B is a bright man and knew the towns of England well. The seaside town of Hame had not appeared on his radar and clearly puzzled him. After a short pause he responded with,

“And where exactly is Hame?”

There was a moment when the entire room froze. And then I inadvertently burst into laughter followed by the rest of the guests. B was thick skinned and didn’t mind at all about the language mix up. Somehow this mismatch of information added rocket fuel to the lunch and we all had a marvellous time.

Since then I’ve always lived in Hame. As the cottage is surrounded by trees in the summer we can almost hear ‘the sea’.

Now living with an Irishman I’ve grown to love the evolution of our shared language. We live with his ‘hot press’ (airing cupboard) and his use of language is superb – why use two words when you can use five and make the language much more fluent?

If you can’t get to London and visit this exhibition you can access some of the jewels online. There’s a really fun quiz to examine your knowledge of English. Being an English graduate I thought that I’d do well. In fact I only scored reasonably well on the beginner level. Ouch! Why not try your luck? You can share your score and invite friends to compete!

You can also record your own voice online by reading Mr Tickle. This will be added to the British Library audio archive as a snapshot of voices in 2011 for future analysis in decades to come. It will also be part of the exhibition and submissions are been collected from across the globe.

Evolving English: One Language, Many Voices is a free exhibition at the British Library It has been running from 12 November and is open until 3 April.

You can tweet using #evolvingenglish (link the #tag to

N.B. The links would be embedded in the text of the final article
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  1. Interesting quiz – I got 6/6, 5/6 and 3/6. It neglected to give me the answer to one of the questions though – I didn’t know what a stitherum was, and I still don’t…

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