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Leigh Turner

Ambassador to Austria and UK Permanent Representative to the United Nations and other International Organisations in Vienna

Part of UK in Ukraine

20th October 2010

Brainiacs, dwarf planets, podcasts and tweets in Kyiv

What do brainiacs, dwarf planets, podcasts and tweets have in common?  They’re the top four new words added to the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary.  I am speaking at the Ukrainian launch of the 8th Edition at the Hyatt in Kyiv, and the room is packed with several hundred English language teachers from all regions of the country.  They’re here to get their hands on the new dictionary, and to hear a lecture by the writer and English language specialist Michael Swan entitled “What is happening to English and how much does it matter?”  This entertaining presentation asks how teachers of English, or anyone interested in the language, should react to the growing prevalence of phrases such as “If you’d have asked me I’d have told you” or “Between you and I” and quotes a series of writers and thinkers going back to antiquity regretting what they see as the decline of the English (and Latin) languages.  Michael’s conclusion is that English is flexible and constantly evolving and that changes to the language, many driven by youth culture, the global use of English and differences between the spoken and the written word, are inevitable and nothing to worry about.

As a keen (mis-)user of the English language I find this kind of stuff fascinating.  In my introduction to the event I refer to another of my favourite books, “The Complete Plain Words” by Sir Ernest Gowers, a copy of which I keep close at hand in my office at work. Gowers is entertaining about use of the language, noting for example on the use of the hyphen that “If you take hyphens seriously you will surely go mad.  I have no intention of taking hyphens seriously”.  He notes, for example, that it is impossible accurately to hyphenate the words “superfluous hair remover” or “fried fish merchant” (I note also that “dwarf planet”, if hyphenated, might sound like a planet populated by dwarfs or, as JRR Tolkien would say, dwarves – a whole subject in itself).  Gowers is similarly philosophical about the interchangeability of the words “shall” and “will” – if you click on the first link in this para you’ll see a full explanation which includes the famous old story about the drowning Scot who was misunderstood by English onlookers and left to his fate because he cried, ‘I will drown and nobody shall save me’.  But my favourite is the illustration by Gowers of how to use correctly the often-confused adjectives “oral” and “verbal”.  In reality, Gowers says, we all know the difference: “No-one,” he says, “chooses wrong in oral contraceptive or verbal diarrhoea.”

About Leigh Turner

I hope you find this blog interesting and, where appropriate, entertaining. My role in Vienna covers the relationship between Austria and the UK as well as the diverse work of…

I hope you find this blog interesting and, where appropriate, entertaining. My role in Vienna covers the relationship between Austria and the UK as well as the diverse work of the UN and other organisations; stories here will reflect that.

About me: I arrived in Vienna in August 2016 for my second posting in this wonderful city, having first served here in the mid-1980s. My previous job was as HM Consul-General and Director-General for Trade and Investment for Turkey, Central Asia and South Caucasus based in Istanbul.

Further back: I grew up in Nigeria, Exeter, Lesotho, Swaziland and Manchester before attending Cambridge University 1976-79. I worked in several government departments before joining the Foreign Office in 1983.

Keen to go to Africa and South America, I’ve had postings in Vienna (twice), Moscow, Bonn, Berlin, Kyiv and Istanbul, plus jobs in London ranging from the EU Budget to the British Overseas Territories.

2002-6 I was lucky enough to spend four years in Berlin running the house, looking after the children (born 1992 and 1994) and doing some writing and journalism.

To return to Vienna as ambassador is a privilege and a pleasure. I hope this blog reflects that.