Free The Word

Free The Word

Put in a good word – and see it immortalised in a new poem

National Poetry Day and the BBC are joining forces this year to discover and celebrate the nation’s great local words. As part of our new #freetheword project, in honour of this year’s Freedom theme, we’ve commissioned 12 poets to write 12 poems, each inspired by a truly distinctive local expression that deserves to be better known nationally.

The words were shortlisted by the Oxford English Dictionary from hundreds nominated by BBC Local Radio listeners – they include cheeselog (a woodlouse), to geg in (to interrupt), and fam (a form of address for a friend).

12 poets, including spoken word artist Hollie McNish and Forward Prize winner, Liz Berry, have now each chosen a word to kickstart a new poem, to be broadcast on National Poetry Day, 28 September. Each represents a different BBC English region and illuminates its culture, habits and geography in unexpected ways: they include resonant words for creepy-crawlies, terms evoking a specific time or place, expressions of complaint or praise, each of which identify their users immediately as belonging to a distinct community.

While each of the 12 expressions will have their own poem, they will all feature in a new poem-of-poems by poet Isaiah Hull, to be unveiled in Hull City of Culture on 28 September as part of the Contains Strong Language Festival.

BBC Radio Scotland and BBC Radio Cymru (the Welsh-language station) are also taking part.


The English words – and poets – in full

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)

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

Eleanor Maier, Associate Editor, Oxford English Dictionary, said: “We at the OED were delighted at the number of local words that were suggested for this campaign, underlining how the kind of crowdsourcing that OED pioneered (long before the word ‘crowdsourcing’ existed) remains a vital part of the dictionary’s work. Not only were we reminded of the breadth and vitality of the country’s dialects, but we were also able to identify and research a large number of new words for future inclusion in the OED, as well as gain valuable information about the currency of local words included in the first edition of the dictionary. Indeed, all the chosen words not currently in the OED will be drafted in the coming months.”

To find out more, read our press release.