Free The Word

October 5, 2016

Free The Word on National Poetry Day

This year, we celebrate the poetry in England and Scotland’s favourite local words through National Poetry Day, which worked with the BBC, Hull City of Culture and 13 poets on the creation of 13 new poems. Each poem riffs on a different dialect word that deserves to be better known outside its area, chosen from nominations by BBC radio listeners across the country.

The final selection was made with the help of lexicographer Eleanor Maier from the Oxford English Dictionary, on the look-out for new definitions and usages to fill the gaps in the Dictionary’s overview of the English language.

The words include cheeselog, nominated by BBC Radio Berkshire listeners, and bobowler from the West Midlands – meaning a woodlouse and large moth, respectively – which have been adopted as the subjects of new poems by Reading-born Hollie McNish and the Black Country’s Liz Berry.

BBC Radio Humberside listeners, and their poet-in-residence Dean Wilson chose to celebrate a didlum (a community savings scheme).

Elsewhere, characteristically local words for universal habits won out. BBC Radio Cumbria listeners have nominated to twine (to complain) for their local poet, Cumbrian-born Kate Hale, whilst BBC Radio Merseyside listeners wanted Liverpudlian poet Chris McCabe to write a poem featuring to geg in (to butt in).

BBC Radio Leicester listeners championed mardy (moody) for poetry slammer Toby Campion, while BBC Radio Bristol asked poet, burlesque artist, and writer Vanessa Kisuule to get creative with gurt (great or very) and BBC Radio Suffolk listeners chose on the huh (lopsided, wonky) for local poet Rebecca Watts.

BBC Radio Leeds poet, Vidyan Ravinthiran, will take a poetic walk down a ginnel (alleyway), which is known by BBC Sussex listeners and their poet, James Brookes, as a twitten.

BBC Radio Devon’s listeners chose an evocative word to describe twilightdimpsy – for local poet Chrissy Williams and BBC London worked with the capital’s first Young People’s Laureate Caleb Femi whose poem riffs on fam, a familiar form of address for a friend, increasingly heard on London streets.

Poet Isaiah Hull has woven all 12 words into a bravura poem-of-poems, commissioned and broadcast as part of the Contains Strong Language festival.

Here’s the Weather, a new poem by BBC Radio Scotland’s Poet in Residence Stuart Paterson contains a flurry of the 700 words nominated by listeners, as well as the word topping the poll – dreich – meaning dreary, damp, misty; while the word cwtch, a hug in Welsh, was chosen by Sophie McKeand, Young People’s Laureate for Wales, for her poem.

Listen to the poems here:

Leeds – Vidyan Ravinthiran – GINNEL (an alleyway)

Humberside – Dean Wilson – DIDLUM (a community savings scheme)

WM (Birmingham) – Liz Berry – BOBOWLER (a large moth)

Sussex – James Brookes – TWITTEN (an alleyway)

Berkshire – Hollie McNish – CHEESELOG (a woodlouse)

Cumbria – Katie Hale – TO TWINE (to complain)

Suffolk – Rebecca Watts – ON THE HUH (lopsided, wonky)

Devon – Chrissy Williams – DIMPSY (twilight)

Leicester – Toby Campion – MARDY (moody)

Bristol – Vanessa Kisuule – GURT (great or very)

Mersyside – Chris McCabe – Geg in (push in)

London – Caleb Femi – FAM (a familiar form of address for a friend)

Scotland – Stuart Paterson – A variety of Scots related to weather




Susannah Herbert, National Poetry Day says: “A poem gives people the freedom to play with words, to rub off the dull tarnish until they’re fresh as new pennies. That’s why the BBC’s push to get poets to celebrate the nation’s favourite local words has struck such a chord with the nation. Everyone who shares a poem, whether in a tweet, a nursery rhyme or a note on the fridge, is pushing back against the deadening regime of prose and striking a blow for the imagination.”


To find out more, read our press release.