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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. Kooky Girl

    I just did the test – got exactly the same as Heather E. I definitely need to go to the expo ! 😮

  2. devongarden

    I got 5/6, 4/6, and 5/6. It did remind me of the saying “good beer and good cheese is good English and good Frise”.

  3. I though the questions were really tough TBH (at least that’s my excuse!)

    4/6, 3/6, 3/6

  4. Toffeeapple

    What fun, I do enjoy quizzes. My score? 5/6; 5/6; 5/6. Not bad for an oldie.

  5. Heather E

    I achieved 5/6, 2/6, 2/6. Oh dear – back to school for me! (Maybe I should have tried when I am properly awake.) What a great blog, Fiona. Really interesting – I want to catch that exhibition.

  6. Magic Cochin

    After kicking ourselves that we missed the maps exhibition at the BL last year (it is online – but not the same as seeing the real exhibits) I think we’ll have to see this one!

    I can’t resist a quiz! I scored 6/6, 4/6 and 5/6


  7. Kooky Girl

    Oh wow ! What fun ! If you’re up for a day trip there Fiona – just let me know.

    I just love the English language, have a love of etymology, studied French, German and English Lit. There’s an excellent book that Bill Bryson wrote before he started writing his travel books called ‘Mother Tongue’ all about the english language. I’d highly recommend it.

  8. I got 5/6, 4/6 and 4/6 – I thought it helped that I speak French, German, and Norwegian and did Latin at school, as well as doing semantics, linguistics and phonetics in first year at Uni. If I’d just based it on my A level English I think I’d’ve been stumped.

  9. I scored 6/6 on the easy peasy and 4/6 on the other levels too.
    Hame is the Scottish word for home.

  10. Well I scored 3/6 on the easy peasy, and 4/6 on both the other levels. My hubby has lost most of his accent but then again he would need a translator here as he is originally from the North East, although his accent was useful in Danish. Home in Danish hjem (prounounded “yem”), Home in Geordie “Yem” – spot the similarity?

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