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."

Leigh Turner
British Ambassador to Ukraine

NOTE:  You can read all of Ambassador Turner's blogs by visiting: 

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