Exciting Adventures in the English Language and Culture

Category: Life in the UK

The British Library by Theresa Shiban

The British Library

Originally part of the British museum, the British Library was separated from its parent in 1973 to become one of the world’s greatest cultural institutions in its own right. A quarter of a century later, it moved into its own home at London’s St Pancras.

The impressive modernist red-brick building designed by architect Sir Colin St. John Wilson caused a lot of controversy while it was under construction and continues to divide opinions to this day.

The King’s Library Tower at the British Library

One of its most spectacular features is the six-storey King’s Library Tower containing precious volumes from King George III’s collection that was gifted to the library at the British museum after the monarch’s death in 1823.

In her 2007 free verse (=poetry that does not have a fixed structure and does not rhyme) Theresa Shiban gives a vivid description of this colossal yet very welcoming temple of knowledge whose doors are open not only to students and researches but to every book lover.

The first thing you notice is what you don’t
it is not imposing
overwhelming
you are not made to feel insignificant
with monumental humility
it is the box the words come in
storey upon storey hidden below
not towering above
to impress or oppress
its exalted purpose democratised
grandeur and majesty achieved by an honest brick
A British Institution
wrestled down to size
to a human scale
and gifted
I am welcomed by the horizontals
elevated not cowed
the masses ennobled
by nothing more than literacy
or rather nothing less
a gentle spectrum
(reds browns whites blacks greens)
wraps around a space for meeting
a Lego tower points the way
I am invited in

* * * *

and enter into light
a cathedral space of secular worship
(in the beginning was the word)
vaults of them, below and above
a bank of words you spend and spend but never lose
I tread soft rounded stairs
handling marble leather brass
(material of privilege offered to the proletariat)
mirroring the gold embossed spines of a king’s library
more light
(where is it coming from?)
directed coaxed refracted toyed with
a conjurer’s trick of mirrors
made to bounce around corners
and softly illuminate the illuminated
verticals of stripy colour
alpha digit diamond dot
Volume 1
A – K
Volume 2
L – Z
a 6-storey jewel box
glowing

* * * *

I detour through Humanities
more laughing light
whites and warming wood
the visual rhythm of grids and open cages
(Someone let the words out again!)
multiples of plug-sized squares
magnified and morphed into the sculptural
ceiling above
a latter day clerestory for contemporary scribes
boxes within boxes within the biggest box of all
My work Is Obviously Important Look Where I Do It

* * * *

I continue up the familiar stair
to A&A and the desk I claim is mine
(8115)
safe
protected
cherished, even
in a room of one’s own
(my own)
(your own)
I sit and begin to work
to distil the great chorus of language treasured
within this building
into one simple word
gratitude

© by owner, provided at no charge for educational purposes 
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10+ alternatives to ‘clever’

In his book ‘How to Be an Alien’ George Mikes writes,

In England it is bad manners to be clever, to assert something confidently’ as ‘the Englishman is modest’.

I wouldn’t say much has changed in this respect since the book was first published in 1946 – the British code of behaviour still strongly disapproves of any displays of one’s intelligence. In other words, if you’re smart, keep it to yourself.

It should now come as no surprise that the English language (or at least British English) has far fewer words and expressions for ‘intelligent’ than, as we have seen, it does for ‘stupid’. Let’s have a look at them.

Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

1. Bright is used especially about children and young people (you may have read Evelyn Waugh’s Bright Young Things or seen the film based on the book).

She’s the brightest student in the class and loved by all the teachers.

2. Brilliant means ‘extremely clever’.

Albert Einstein was one of the most brilliant scientists of all time.

However, it can also be used sarcastically to mean the opposite!

(At the airport) You left the tickets at home?! Brilliant! What are we going to do now?

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How to Say Hello and Goodbye Like a Native

The very first thing you learn to say in any new language is, without doubt, how to greet people. And there’s a good reason for that – you can’t possibly strike up (=start) a conversation without saying hello first. Well, technically speaking, you can, but we don’t do that in polite society (=educated and well-mannered people).

Image by GimpWorkshop from Pixabay

Hello is a universal greeting – it works at any time of day and in any situation, especially with people you don’t know well and older people.

Hello Mrs Smith. How are you today?

It’s also the word we use when answering the phone.

Hello. – Hi Jenny, it’s Katy. – Oh, hi Katy!

Hello there can be used to address either one person or a group of people.

Hello there! It’s ages since I last saw you. How have you been?

We also use it rather informally when writing to someone whose name we don’t know (or can’t remember!). For example, you want to buy something on Ebay but have questions to ask the seller. Hello (or Hi) there is a perfectly acceptable way of starting your message.

Then, there’s hi, which these days is by far the most popular greeting among native English speakers as it’s friendlier and less formal than hello. It’s used both in conversation in informal writing, i.e. emails and text messages, with family and friends, colleagues and clients, people who do things for us, such as shop assistants and waiters, and so on. The only restriction in its use is the age difference – don’t say hi to anyone who’s much older than you, unless you’re on intimate terms with them as I am with my parents-in-law, for example.

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