Sound and vision blog

Sound and moving images from the British Library

67 posts categorized "Radio"

14 August 2023

Recording of the week: 40 Days and 40 Nights

Image containing a partially obscured face
Photo by Elias Maurer on Unsplash.

Three years ago the UK was emerging from the first of its three national lockdowns, imposed by the government in an effort to curtail the spread of Covid-19. In March 2020, BBC Radio 4’s PM programme launched Covid Chronicles, inviting listeners to submit accounts of their lockdown and pandemic experiences. Some of these submissions were broadcast on the programme, and the full collection has found a home at the British Library.

One of these submissions – ’40 Days and 40 Nights’ by Becky Clayton – is a humorous creative story, exploring the negative and positive effects of the lockdown from the perspective of a narrator in conversation with her housemate, Satan. Whilst Satan gleefully describes the chaos and destruction wrought by the pandemic, the narrator argues that a lot of good has come out of the lockdowns too, much to Satan’s annoyance.

Listen to Becky Clayton

Download 40 Days and 40 Nights transcript

Content warning: this audio clip contains strong language and adult themes.

Becky Clayton submitted this recording to BBC Radio 4 for the PM programme’s Covid Chronicles segment. The full Covid Chronicles collection will be available at the British Library later in 2023.

Becky’s story features as a collection item on the British Library’s Covid stories web resource. The resource offers insights into the Covid-19 pandemic from a multitude of perspectives, as documented in the many Covid collections now archived at the British Library. The resource features eight articles on a range of topics, from the experiences of NHS staff and patients to the impact of the pandemic on young people and communities. Becky’s creative story features in the article ‘Creative responses to the Covid-19 pandemic’, authored by Dr Ernesto Priego.

This week’s selection comes from Madeline White, Curator of Oral History.

16 December 2022

BL Sports Word of the Year 2022

Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator of Spoken English, writes:

A fortnight ago, I stumbled across BBC football correspondent, Ian Dennis, playing Radio 5 Live's World Cup Bauble Challenge with Breakfast presenters, Rachel Burden and Rick Edwards. While the game itself was mildly diverting, I was more intrigued to hear – in the space of about three minutes airtime – the acronyms VAR [= ‘(football) video assistant referee’], TMO [= ‘(rugby) television match official’] and DRS [= ‘(cricket) decision review system’]. The existence of the terms reflects the increasing reliance of professional sport on technology and additional off-field experts to assist with on-field decisions; their use in this light-hearted exchange shows just how quickly they’ve permeated mainstream discourse. A few days previously I’d read a column in the Guardian in which Adrian Chiles dismissed sporting jargon as baffling and off-putting to the uninitiated, so I assume he'd have found that conversation really annoying. For me, though, it provided another set of entries in my growing list of vernacular English gleaned from the mainstream sporting press and media.

With various dictionaries announcing their 2022 Word of The Year – Collins plumped for permacrisis, while the rather more left field goblin mode emerged from Oxford’s public vote – it also reminded me it was time for an annual review of the linguistic highlights I’ve collected over the last twelve months. Here, then, are the ten nominees for the 8th unofficial British Library Sports Word of The Year (SWOTY 2022):

April (Mary Earps introducing demonstration of technique for executing accurate, long-range, drop-kick clearance, BBC Online): we’re gonna do some zing zingers sidewinders

May (Peter Crouch discussing tactic of player lying down behind defensive wall at free kicks, That Peter Crouch Podcast): I’d be a helluva good draught excluder

June (Michael Atherton of Ollie Pope’s fielding position versus New Zealand, Sky Sports): Pope goes in to boot hill

July (Gabby Logan of Georgia Stanway goal versus Spain, BBC1): absolute blooter of a goal from Georgia Stanway

July (Isa Guha of David Willey hitting boundaries off first two balls of Hardik Pandya over, BBC2): David Willey fancies a little cheeky innings here

July (Rachael Burden interviewing Paul Farbrace about philosophy of new England coach Brendan McCullum, BBC Radio 5 Live): tell us about Bazball

August (Andy Hunter quoting Liverpool manager, Jürgen Klopp, reflecting on the importance of learning from experience, Guardian): I got washed with all kinds of water in my life

September (Simon Burnton of evolution of traditional nightwatchman role, Guardian): Broad […] was padded up and ready if necessary to play the role of free-hitting nighthawk

October (Aaron Bowyer of England’s women’s Rugby League team, Guardian): England aim to replicate the exploits of football’s Lionesses this summer, but they have competition from the Jillaroos

This year’s list perhaps inevitably focuses on three sports that held major international competitions in 2022 – football (women’s Euros and men’s World Cup), cricket (women’s World Cup and men’s T20 World Cup) and Rugby League (men’s, women’s and wheelchair World Cups). Two entries – Lionesses [= ‘England women’s football team’] and Jillaroos [= ‘Australia women’s Rugby League team’] – are nicknames for national teams in their respective sports. Both occur frequently in published articles and wider sporting discourse. Indeed some nicknames are so well established that they’re arguably more commonly used than the name of the country they denote – the All Blacks [= ‘New Zealand men’s Rugby Union team’] is probably the most obvious example. I’m not aware of any widely used equivalent for the England (or Scotland, Wales or Ireland) men’s Rugby Union team, although the England women’s team are frequently referred to as the Red Roses. Undisputed world champions in sporting nicknames (and many sports) must surely be Australia, whose particular fondness for the pseudo suffix <-roo> came to my attention this autumn. In a single week in late October/early November, Guardian articles featured the following monikers: Kangaroos [= ‘Australia men’s Rugby League team’]; Socceroos [= ‘Australia men’s football team’]; Jillaroos [= ‘Australia women’s Rugby League team’]; and the wonderfully creative Wheelaroos [= ‘Australia wheelchair Rugby League team’].


Rather disappointingly, there was a match report the same week about the Diamonds [= ‘Australia women’s netball team’] – might I suggest Catcharoos or Springaroos would be more compatible? Of this list, the Kangaroos and Jillaroos both became world champions and the Diamonds won the netball title at the Commonwealth Games or Commie Games as I heard several young hockey players call it – a hypocorism (i.e. affectionate diminutive form), which is a linguistic phenomenon at which Australians might also claim to be world champions.

Even more productive than <-roo> is the suffix <-ball>, captured here in the entry Bazball. The first element, Baz, is the nickname of the current England men’s Test cricket coach, Brendan McCullum. The suffix <-ball> is, I suspect, inspired by Moneyball, the title of a book and film celebrating a methodology devised by Oakland Athletics general manager, Billy Beane, the principle of which was to create a successful baseball team by prioritising statistical analysis over coaching ‘instinct’. The <-ball> suffix is now frequently attached to the name of an innovative coach or player as a convenient shorthand for a specific philosophy or tactical approach.


Although McCullum himself apparently dislikes the term, Bazball refers to what many observers consider a high-risk – and extremely entertaining – attacking approach to the more sedate form of cricket traditionally associated with Test matches. In this year’s Guardian, I’ve noted the following examples of this morphological process on at least one occasion: Pepball, Kloppball, Rangnickball, Farrellball, Wengerball, Bruceball, Viratball, Potterball, Josball. Sports fans will recognise the individual coaches or players referenced in each case; some are used positively (i.e. in praise of the exponent’s philosophy); others more negatively (i.e. criticising their approach). Where Bazball appears to be the implementation of a so-called ‘red-ball reset’ for men’s cricket in England, Josball might be considered the culmination of the equivalent ‘white-ball reset’ instigated by former captain, Eoin Morgan, and now modified by the present incumbent, Jos Buttler.

Another entry in this shortlist captures the essence of Bazball: nighthawk [= ‘batter sent in when a wicket falls shortly before close of play and instructed to make quick runs’]. The term nighthawk is clearly a play on the conventional cricketing wisdom of employing a nightwatchman in such circumstances [= ‘(lower order, i.e. non-specialist) batter sent in when a wicket falls shortly before close of play and instructed to play out time thereby reducing the risk of losing another specialist batter’]. The contrast between viewing the loss of a wicket towards close of play as a potential banana skin requiring a nightwatchman and seeing it as an opportunity to be exploited by a nighthawk somehow epitomises Bazball. Collins defines nighthawk as a synonym for night owl [= ‘someone who works more effectively late at night’]. In a cricketing context, then, the implication is that a nighthawk presumably relishes rather than fears batting in a pressurised situation at close of play. I also suspect the <-hawk> element implies the sense of the US English metaphor, hawks and doves, in that hawks advocate an aggressive response to a perceived threat, while doves favour a conciliatory (i.e. defensive) approach.

Three entries here are sporting jargon (i.e. specialised vocabulary used by, or at least familiar to, players and fans of a given sport, but probably incomprehensible to outsiders). These are zinger (aka sidewinder) [= (of goalkeeper) ‘sideways drop-kick volleyed clearance or pass’]; draught excluder [= ‘footballer who lies down behind defensive wall at free-kick’]; and boot hill [= ‘forward short leg’ (i.e. fielding position extremely close to batter)]. Zinger is defined as ‘something outstanding’ and generally attributed to US English, while Merriam-Webster defines sidewinder as ‘a heavy swinging blow from the side’. Mary Earp’s use here refers to a clearance, kicked from the hand in which the torso and leg of the kicking foot is almost horizontal to the ground at impact. Goalkeepers increasingly use this technique rather than the more ‘traditional’ drop-kick in which the ball is punted vertically in the air. The sidewinder is considered more accurate and thus allows the modern goalkeeper to initiate play rather than simply clear the ball hopefully upfield. A draught excluder placed at the foot of a door to prevent cold air entering a room is something we’re all probably familiar with – especially this winter. Often slightly playful in design, they bear an uncanny resemblance to the bizarre sight of a footballer lying down behind a defensive wall at a free kick. This tactic has emerged in recent years in response to goals occasionally resulting from free kicks intentionally directed beneath a defensive wall on the assumption that players in the wall invariably jump to present a taller barrier.


Oxford records boot hill as a humorous term in US English for ‘a place where people are buried’. Its meaning in cricket captures the gallows humour implicit in a fielding position that carries an increased risk of serious injury. While mainstream dictionaries record the more conventional meanings of all three, their use in sporting contexts is clearly relatively recent as they’re less widely documented: Collins includes draught excluder as a ‘new word suggestion’; sidewinder occurs frequently in online platforms, notably in video clips of the phenomenon; while boot hill merits an entry in Michael Rundell’s Dictionary of Cricket (1995).

Two terms here aren’t exclusive to sporting discourse: blooter [= ‘impressive hit/kick (esp. of ball)’] and cheeky [= ‘enjoyable and unexpected’]. Both occur in other informal contexts, so might be considered slang (i.e. informal forms), although there is an argument to consider the former as dialect (i.e. a localised form) as it’s most commonly associated with Scotland, as confirmed by the Scots Language Centre. It’s a little ironic that Gabby Logan – born in England of Welsh heritage but, crucially perhaps, married to a Scotsman – chose a Scots form, blooter, to describe an England goal. The form cheeky – often, as here, combined with little – is particularly common among younger speakers of British English. It typically implies a spontaneous, slightly self-indulgent act, as demonstrated in common collocations such as a cheeky pint or a cheeky Nandos (compare the older comparable form crafty fag for an illicit cigarette). This sense of cheeky is confirmed by an entry in Macmillan and is also the subject of a wonderful linguistic study.

The final entry simply reflects my own personal fascination, as a former teacher of German, with (i) idioms that are, if not untranslatable, offer no obvious equivalent in English; and (ii) Kloppisms (i.e. the musings of Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp). Reflecting on Liverpool’s uncharacteristically slow start to this season, Klopp translated the German idiom, mit allen Wassern gewaschen, almost verbatim as (to be) washed with all kinds of water [= ‘to know all the tricks in the book’]. Duden simply defines the phrase as ‘clever’, but it conveys something much more along the lines of possessing ‘know-how’, ‘cunning’, ‘experience’ and ‘a trick or two up one’s sleeve’.

As with previous years, most of this year’s entries are captured in the British Library’s Newspaper collections, National Radio Archive and UK Web Archive, demonstrating how the Library’s collections document the diversity and continued evolution of the English language.

And now it’s time to announce the winner. Given the extraordinary events in successive home Tests against New Zealand and India this summer and the remarkable Test series in Pakistan, in any other year Bazball would have been a shoo-in. However, England women’s football triumph this summer at Wembley was even more impressive, so the clear winner, both of the Euros and of SWOTY 2022, is Lionesses.

LIONESSES [GDN 03.08.22]

Follow Spoken English collections at @VoicesofEnglish.

05 December 2022

Recording of the week: ‘Raising her father’s grave: An interview with Titanic survivor Eva Hart’

This week's selection comes from George Brierley, Audio Cataloguer at the British Library.

It has been over 110 years since the sinking of RMS Titanic. In that time, there have been numerous attempts to raise the shipwreck from the bottom of the Atlantic. One of the first prominent expeditions to locate Titanic was financed by Texan oil tycoon Jack Grimm, setting sail from Florida on 17 July 1980.

A British Library collection of LBC (London Broadcasting Company) tapes (C1438: LBC/IRN Archive) is currently being digitised and catalogued. It contains an impressive 7,804 items of LBC radio programming, circa 1973-1996. The collection contains an interview with Eva Hart (1905-1996), one of the very few remaining survivors of Titanic at the time of Grimm’s expedition. Her interview was broadcast on 17 August 1980.

At the age of seven, Eva had been a second-class passenger on Titanic alongside her mother and father. The family were emigrating from England to Canada and had all their belongings on board. Eva and her mother were rescued via lifeboat, but she tragically lost her father in the disaster. Before Eva boarded the lifeboat, Benjamin Hart told his daughter to be a good girl and hold her mother’s hand, a scene that was recreated in James Cameron’s 1997 blockbuster film Titanic. These were his last words to Eva. His body was never recovered or identified.

Photo of Benjamin  Eva and Esther Hart

Above: Eva Hart (centre), with her father Benjamin (who perished on board Titanic) and her mother Esther, c. 1910s. Photograph from Wikipedia. Copyright: Public Domain.

Eva was living in East London in 1980. She talks in vivid detail about the night of the disaster to LBC presenter Rodney Bennett. Remembering the event ‘as if it were yesterday’, she describes the sinking of Titanic as ‘the most fantastically dreadful experience’. Interestingly, Eva’s mother had a premonition about the doomed ship in the days before the sinking. Esther Hart had been uneasy throughout the sailing, and had been wide awake and fully dressed when the ship struck the iceberg. This was one of the reasons why they were able to reach the deck in time to board one of the lifeboats. Eva had been conscious of her mother’s fear leading up to the disaster, and this heightened her own fear at the time.

Eva is against Grimm’s current search. She believes that if Titanic is found, it should be left where it is. In an excerpt from the end of the interview, she recognises that Titanic is an important historic relic, describing what she believes her reaction would be if she were to see it again.

Listen to Eva Hart

Download Eva Hart interview transcript

Titanic is now protected by UNESCO and there have been no more attempts to raise it. Eva Hart’s recollection of the night of the sinking is harrowing, but puts events into a human perspective. It is understandable that she would want the shipwreck to remain undisturbed. The grave of her father has been at the bottom of the ocean for almost her entire lifetime.

24 October 2022

Recording of the week: Vaughan Williams Symphony No. 6 - the premiere

This week's post comes from Jonathan Summers, Curator, Classical Music Recordings.

Photo of Vaughan Williams disc

I was looking for something by which to celebrate the 150th anniversary this month of the birth of one of England’s greatest symphonic composers of the twentieth century, Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958). His nine symphonies span more than fifty years from the first, which he began in 1903, to the last, composed in 1956 and 1957.

More than twenty years ago the British Library sound archive acquired the collection of engineer Kenneth Leech, who began to record radio broadcasts from the mid-1930s on to lacquer discs. I was delighted to discover that Mr. Leech had recorded the opening of the Symphony No. 6 from its first performance on 21st April 1948.

Extract from the Radio Times

Adrian Boult is conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra in a Royal Philharmonic Society Concert from the Albert Hall. The sound from the unique lacquer disc is low fidelity and the beginning is clipped, but the power and impact of the music of this arresting opening is undeniable. Apparently, this is all that has survived of that first performance.

Listen to British Library disc 1LL0009106

Boult made a commercial recording of the work for EMI with the London Symphony Orchestra on the 23rd and 24th February 1949 at Abbey Road Studios, but he was pipped to the post by Leopold Stokowski who recorded it with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra for Columbia on the 21st February 1949 making it the first studio recording of the work. All of these performances are of the work before it was revised by the composer in 1950.

11 July 2022

Recording of the week: Trailblazers in women’s sports

This week’s selection comes from Sarah Kirk-Browne, Cataloguer of Digital Multimedia Collections.

EURO 2022 promotional flyer

Last week, the UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 competition kicked off in Old Trafford. This is the second time England has hosted the tournament, and there are live matches in stadiums across the country. With an exciting and inspiring summer of women’s sport ahead, I would like to highlight this conversation recorded for The Listening Project in 2021.

The Listening Project is an audio archive of personal conversations, collected by local and national BBC radio stations. Since 2012, people have been invited to have a conversation recorded and broadcast (in edited form) by the BBC and archived by the British Library. You can listen to over one thousand recordings in full on our Sounds website, and learn more about the ongoing project on the BBC website. In this recording, archived in full as British Library call number C1500/2124, two pioneering sportswomen discuss their successes and experiences.

Leah Caleb started playing football at infant school, joining in with the boys in the playground. As her love of football grew, her mum heard about a new women's football team called Chiltern Valley run by Harry and June Batt. Leah joined the club aged 11, and at just 13 she went to Mexico to take part in the 1971 Women's World Cup. At the time, the media were comparing her footballing skills to George Best, and interest and ticket sales for the competition exceeded all expectations. 

Although she was representing England and played in front of crowds of 90,000, the team was not recognised by the Football Association or the then Women's Football Association (WFA), and on their return home they were banned from playing for three months. You can read more about the WFA’s reaction to this event in the WFA Archive held by the British Library at call number Add MS 89306. However, this sequence of events paved the way for much greater recognition and support for women’s football, leading to the huge popularity and excitement for the 2022 Euros that we are seeing today.

In this clip, Leah describes her love for the game:

Listen to Leah Caleb

Download Leah Caleb transcript

Joining Leah in this conversation is Dana Abdulkarim, who was the first Muslim and Arab woman to represent England in any sport. Like Leah, she was also 13 when her football career was taking off. She was encouraged to go for trials to play for England, but an injury combined with attitudes around her faith and participation in the sport proved to be a challenge. Instead she focused on rounders, which at the time felt more inclusive. She had great success and subsequently gained 67 England caps. She then went on to become Britain's first hijabi Muslim PE teacher, encouraging future generations of girls in sport. She is also a speaker, writer, and trustee at the Muslim Women’s Sport Foundation and the Chance to Shine charity.

Leah and Dana talk together about their trailblazing experiences as women in sport across different generations. They also discuss the challenges they have faced and their hopes for the future.

In this second clip, Dana talks about how things are changing for the better in school sports, and how much she is looking forward to the Euros:

Listen to Dana Abdulkarim

Download Dana Abdulkarim transcript

Get involved with preserving women’s football online:

The British Library is part of the UK Web Archive, which has an extensive collection of content from sports clubs (amateur and professional), fan sites, football research and events. There is no distinction in the collection based on gender, and we are working to ensure that information, discussion and creative output related to the UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 competition is preserved for future generations. Anyone can nominate UK published websites for inclusion in the UK Web Archive by filling in our nominations form.

You can read more about the UK Web Archive’s UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 collection in this recent blog post by Curator of Web Archiving, Helena Byrne

14 February 2022

Recording of the week: Neville Chamberlain and King George VI's broadcasts regarding Britain declaring war on Germany in 1939

This week's selection comes from Joseph McGeady, Learning Team Apprentice.

The British Library has recently launched its Speaking Out website, an online resource exploring the importance of public speaking and debating through a collection of sound recordings from the Library’s sound archive. 

Included in the Speaking Out collection are excerpts from two speeches made on the same day - 3rd September 1939. King George VI of Great Britain and his Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, made these speeches to announce the British government’s decision to declare war on Nazi Germany following the regime’s refusal to withdraw its troops from Poland by 11am on that day. Chamberlain’s announcement was broadcast at 11:15am; the King’s speech at 6pm. 

Black and white photo of King George VI addressing the nation via radioKing George VI addresses the nation. Image © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images.

King George VI speaking at the outbreak of war [BL REF C1398/0016]

Download Transcript

Black and white photo of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain speaking to the nation from a BBC broadcasting studioNeville Chamberlain announces the declaration of war. Image © Fox Photos / Getty Images.

Neville Chamberlain announces war with Germany, 1939 [BL REF 1CD0013823 D1 BD02]

Download Transcript

Radio and recording technology were clearly still nascent – there is a background of crackle throughout and none of the dynamic range and depth we take for granted in modern broadcasts and recordings. However, these limitations lend an authenticity to the sound excerpts - placing them in a distinct historical period; faithfully conveying the very formal style of British public speaking at the time; and emphasising the slow and sombre delivery tone of the speeches. The gravity of the situation and the uncertainty of the impending conflict are very apparent to the listener.

Many of us may find the prospect of public speaking quite daunting but we would not normally expect this of prominent public figures such as a King or Prime Minister. However, delivering these speeches proved difficult for both men for very different and personal reasons.

Neville Chamberlain had been a strong advocate of appeasement towards Adolf Hitler. Less than a year earlier, Chamberlain had proudly proclaimed “Peace for our time”, whilst displaying the agreement he had signed with Hitler in Munich concerning the German annexation of the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia. Hitler’s subsequent dismissal of the agreement, followed by the invasions of Czechoslovakia and Poland and the declaration of war on Germany proved to be a humiliating reversal in Chamberlain’s fortunes and would soon lead to his downfall.

For the King, announcing the declaration of war proved challenging in another way. George VI, or ‘Bertie’ to his friends and family, was born the second son of King George V and thus never expected to become King. He unwillingly ascended the throne after his brother King Edward VIII famously abdicated in December 1936 to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson. The King had a bad stammer, which made public speaking very difficult for him. Having to deliver such an important national and international address would therefore have been exceptionally challenging for the reluctant monarch.

The profound air of pessimism in these broadcasts ultimately proved portentous for both figures. The Second World War would have a significant impact on the health of the Prime Minister and of the King. Neville Chamberlain would go on to resign his office in May 1940 and die from cancer before the end of the year. The stress of the war years took a heavy toll on the King and he would die in 1952, aged 56, having reigned for just under 16 years.

Speaking Out is generously supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund as part of Unlocking Our Sound Heritage.

Pink soundwave and the words 'Unlocking Our Sound Heritage', next to the National Lottery Heritage Fund logoFollow @BLSoundHeritage and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

17 December 2021

BL Sports Word of theYear 2021

Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator of Spoken English, writes:

It’s perhaps not surprising that vax and its more conventional older sibling, vaccine, were designated 2021 Word Of The Year by dictionaries in the UK and USA respectively. This weekend also sees the annual BBC Sports Personality of the Year (SPOTY) awards ceremony, which leads rather neatly to my annual review of linguistic highlights I’ve collected from mainstream media over the last twelve months in search of the 8th unofficial British Library Sports Word of The Year (SWOTY 2021). Inevitably, pandemic-related vocabulary once again featured prominently in sports coverage throughout 2021. In The Guardian alone, last year’s ubiquitous biosecure bubble subtly morphed into bio-bubble or simply bubble, while pingdemic began to appear in the sports pages from July as numerous sportsmen and -women withdrew from teams or events to self-isolate following notification of a close contact to Covid-19. Despite this, the terms selected here focus exclusively on the more enduring aspects of sporting discourse. Here, then are the ten nominees for SWOTY 2021:

February (Sir Alastair Cook responding to praise at his prediction that England would win the men’s Test at Chennai, Channel 4): even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while

February (Ebony Rainford-Brent reflecting on England’s victory in the men’s Test in Chennai): the batters set things up in the first innings

March (Pamela Cookey’s half time analysis of Severn Stars tactics in the Vitality Super League fixture against Leeds Rhinos, Sky Sports Mix): [they] had time to work that to circle edge you can see the desperation

April (Nick Dougherty responding to Butch Harmon’s comment about Cameron Smith’s haircut at The Masters, Sky Sports Golf): I think they call it a Tennessee waterfall over there


July (Mel Jones describing Imran Tahir’s extravagant dive after taking a catch for Birmingham Phoenix against Southern Brave, Sky Sports Main Event): I thought he put a bit of mayo on that

July (Liam Gallagher tweet following Emma Raducanu’s success at Wimbledon, Guardian Sport): get on the Les Dennis tday [sic] and get behind Emma Raducanu celestial talent

August (Charlotte Worthington explains her first ever in-competition 360 back flip in Olympic BMX Freestyle, BBC 5 Live): I managed to pull off the 360 back flip aka the Ferrari which we kept under tight wraps in the lead up to the games

August (Deep Dasgupta discussing the batting approach of Indian cricketers, KS Rahul & Rohit Sharma) both of them have played what we call khadoos cricket

September (Ewen Murray quoting Lexi Thompson’s opinion on the absence of European supporters at the Solheim Cup, Guardian Sport): Thompson insisted the scale of backing for the US will not apply the P-word

November (Vicky Sparks quoting Beth Mead’s own explanation of an intentional shot-cum-cross at a free kick, BBC 5 Live): she calls it a crots

December (Chloe Merrell summarising England’s victory in the second Test v Jamaica, Guardian Sport): Sophie Drakeford-Lewis was tried at wing attack

This year’s list embraces six sports – cricket, netball, golf, tennis, BMX, and football. As in previous years, cricket features prominently, undoubtedly a reflection of the sport’s notoriously arcane vocabulary, but also perhaps because the stop-start nature of the game offers greater opportunity for spontaneous chat during a typical live commentary. In contrast to previous years, seven of the ten entries are attributed to women and six relate to female sport – a result, perhaps, of the gradual, but long overdue, increase in coverage of female sport and of greater female representation in the sporting media.

The entries reveal the usual linguistic suspects, including examples of jargon (i.e. specialised vocabulary, e.g. batter, circle edge and wing attack) and slang (i.e. informal forms, e.g. put a bit of mayo on, Les Dennis and Ferrari), while the phrase even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while looks like an idiom or even a proverb. The increasing influence of the Indian subcontinent on cricketing vocabulary is evident in the loan word khadoos. P-word is a code word formed by the well-established morphological process of taking the initial letter of the intended word and adding the suffix <-word>. I suspect P-word , like the blend crots, is a neologism (i.e. an idiosyncratic expression coined by the user for a one-off occasion). All ten demonstrate how press and media sports coverage is an excellent resource for discovering vernacular English.

The term batter [= ‘player who bats in cricket’] is recorded in the OED from 1773, but the most recent citation is 1854, while the hitherto more established form, batsman, has entries that run from 1744 to 1927. Until recently, for most (male?) British cricketers, batter was generally associated with Australian usage – i.e. a rare example of sporting dialect – but in September this year the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) officially adopted the form, batter, in its Laws of the Game. Promoting a gender-neutral term over a previously more widespread form is an unusual example of a governing body changing its terminology to reflect (and endorse) social change. Inevitably, the term divides opinion in cricketing circles, although the citation here pre-dates the ECB resolution. As a female ex-England cricketer, I imagine Ebony Rainford-Brent has always viewed this form as perfectly natural and uncontentious, and it’s reassuring to note that The Guardian has consistently used batter in its cricket coverage all year.

The two other items of jargon here come from netball. Watching Vitality Super League matches this season I’ve been struck by the number of commentators and players who refer to a specific area of the court as circle edge, rather than the (to me) more grammatically instinctive construction, the edge of the circle. By way of contrast, hockey players refer to the equivalent part of a hockey pitch as the edge of the circle (or, even more commonly the edge of the D). This preference for a compound noun and zero definite article in netball is confirmed by numerous netball coaching manuals, while the FIH rulebook confirms the preference for possessive ‘of’ in hockey.


While every football position I can think of and indeed every fielding position in cricket, many of which are delightfully obscure, merits an entry in either the OED or its open access counterpart, Lexico, I was surprised to discover that the netball position, wing attack, does not warrant an entry in either. Interestingly, Lexico has entries for centre, goal attack and goal defence, but not for wing attack nor for wing defence. Yet anyone who has ever played netball – presumably at least half the UK population – will be familiar with the term and has worn a WA bib to prove it. In fact, the names for netball positions – and their corresponding abbreviations – were clearly considered sufficiently mainstream to appear as clues in March this year on BBC2’s Only Connect Series 16 Final; so come on, OED: let’s have wing attack and wing defence in the dictionary.


Returning to cricket, Test Match Special commentator, Deep Dasgupta, described India’s openers, KS Rahul and Rohit Sharma, as typical khadoos cricketers [= ‘unspectacular but gritty and determined’]. ESPN Cricinfo website describes khadoos as a common label in Indian cricketing circles, especially in Mumbai, for a type of unglamorous, uncompromising cricketer with a never-say die attitude.

A 2017 article in the Hindu Sportstar uses the veiled form, K-word, to refer to the same phenomenon – mirroring analogous disguised forms, which serve as euphemisms (e.g. F-word) or as a means of avoiding offensive terms (e.g. N-word). The implication is that khadoos has negative connotations for some, which is presumably the implication here with P-word [= ‘pressure’]. Sports stars understandably go to considerable lengths to disguise any outward display of nerves, so the use of P-word here suggests that the word pressure is not even in Lexi Thompson’s vocabulary. The OED lists several ‘X-word’ forms, but I haven’t found any supporting evidence for widespread use of P-word in this sense. The construction itself is clearly highly productive as in October, B-word [= ‘banter’] appeared in The Guardian as shorthand used by some (unsuccessfully, thankfully) to try and justify the unacceptable dressing room culture experienced by Azeem Rafiq and others at Yorkshire County Cricket Club and elsewhere.

As in previous years, several entries illustrate how the spontaneous nature of live commentary, punditry and post-match interviews promotes light-hearted exchanges and playful language. Our enduring fascination with, and enthusiasm for, rhyming slang, is demonstrated by Les Dennis [= ‘tennis’], which features in the wonderful Cockney Rhyming Slang website, while Urban Dictionary records Tennessee Waterfall [= ‘mullet-style haircut’] and adding mayo [= ‘to exaggerate a story that is not that exciting in order to get a reaction from listeners’], i.e. expressing a similar notion to Mel Jones’s use here of put a bit of mayo on. Similarly typical of our individual and shared pleasure in wordplay is the form crots [= ‘cross-cum-shot’ i.e. a ball played towards goal in the hope that it will either result in a goal or a goalscoring opportunity for a teammate]. As a blend of the words cross and shot, it’s interesting to note that Beth Mead favours crots over its potential rival shoss – presumably because crots adheres more instinctively to English phonotactic rules.

I haven’t found any other reference to crots nor to Ferrari [= ‘something especially outstanding/impressive/desirable of its kind’], used here to describe the spectacular trick performed by Charlotte Worthington in winning the Olympic BMX Freestyle gold medal. Nonetheless, it’s interesting to note that an equally exclusive Italian sports car – Maserati – conveys an identical notion in the 1972 Monty Python bus conductor sketch, in which Graham Chapman delivers the punchline to a joke followed by ‘Boom! Boom! Every one a Maserati!’. Finally, even a blind squirrel finds a nut [= ‘even if people are ineffective/misguided, they’re still sometimes correct by sheer luck’] is recorded in the Cambridge International Dictionary, although several online forums suggest acorn for nut.

Most of this year’s entries are captured in the British Library’s Newspaper collections, National Radio Archive and UK Web Archive, proving the Library is an invaluable resource for monitoring vernacular language. And so, after much deliberation, I’m delighted to announce this year’s winner is batter - in recognition of what it represents in terms of a more inclusive future and in the hope that England might find one or two in time for the second Ashes Test!


Follow Spoken English collections at @VoicesofEnglish.

07 June 2021

Recording of the week: Efe honey gathering in the Ituri Forest

This week's selection comes from Catherine Smith, Audio Project Cataloguer for Unlocking our Sound Heritage.

For about two months a year in the Ituri Forest, it is honey gathering season for the Efe people of north eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. This season is an important and exciting time for the Efe, in which their energy is focused intensely on gathering honey, a favourite and staple part of their diet and livelihood.

The gathering occurs when honey is most abundant, between May and September. There are many different Efe songs and dances associated with honey gathering, performed before, during and after collection.

Climbing for honey
'Climbing for honey' by Terese Hart is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Honey gathering song [BL REF C423_1 S2 C2]

This particular group song is sung when the men are gathering honey from trees. The song is a beautifully intricate texture of polyphonic singing, hand clapping and likembe (a small lamellophone). Yodelling voices gradually emerge over the men’s bass humming. Listen closely and you can hear how the amorphous singing and humming imitates the swarm of honeybees flying around them. By ‘yodel’ we mean a vocal technique that involves alternating a ‘chest voice’ with a ‘head voice’, as recordist Didier Demolin explains in the liner notes to a CD release of his recordings.

The honey usually has to be gathered by climbing high into the trees, where the hive is often located twenty metres or more above. The men smoke out the bees and collect the honey in a basket or pack of leaves.

This song was recorded by Didier Demolin at the edge of the Ituri Forest in 1987, when the Efe were camping near the Lese villages of Ngodingodi and Digbo. The recording is part of the C423 Didier Demolin Collection and can be listened to in British Library Reading Rooms at C423/1 S2 C2.

The collection is of particular significance because the recordings were made shortly before warfare and deforestation inflicted profound damage upon Efe and Mbuti communities and their environment.

This Efe honey gathering song features in the British Library Sound Archive’s latest NTS radio programme on work songs from around the world. The show's selection also includes the songs of pearl divers from Bahrain, Somalian women singing to the rhythm of corn pounding, Scottish waulking songs and miners’ songs from Venezuela and the U.K., amongst many more.

UOSH_Footer_2019_Magenta (004)

Follow @BLSoundHeritage and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

Sound and vision blog recent posts



Other British Library blogs