Copernicus Gets Diplomatic


Copernicus Gets Diplomatic

When the first secretary-general of the United Nations (Trygve Lie, a Norwegian) handed over to his successor (Dag Hammarskjöld, a Swede) he said, “Welcome to the most impossible job on this earth.”

(By the way, some linguists don’t like this! They would say that the word ‘impossible’, like ‘unique’, is a non-gradable adjective: you cannot say that something is “the most unique” or “more unique”. However, your Copernicus columnist has always been relaxed about this kind of thing – as I’m about to prove in my next sentence.)

The job has become even more impossible since the early days. When Trygve Lie became secretary-general in 1946, the UN had 51 member states; in 2016 it has 193. The eight people who have been secretary-general reflect this geographic diversity: in addition to Norway and Sweden, they have come from Burma (now Myanmar), Austria, Peru, Egypt and Ghana. The current holder of the office, Ban Ki-moon (who will retire at the end of this year), is from South Korea.

The objective of this Copernicus column is to give students exposure to different kinds of English accents from around the world. So this month we’re off to Manhattan in New York to listen to Mr Ban. But we’re not going to the UN headquarters next to the East River. Instead, we’re going to the Ed Sullivan Theater on Broadway, where Mr Ban appeared last year on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert”.

“You are a diplomat,” said Stephen, “and you have to be diplomatic to everyone. But there are some crazy world leaders out there who want to come speak at the UN. What are some of the most difficult people you’ve had to deal with over the years?” With the help of some alcohol, Stephen persuades Mr Ban to “dish”…


(1) Introduce some new words and expressions: for example, “Let’s dish” (see “dish the dirt“).

(2) Gap fill: for example, fill in the verbs in Mr Ban’s story (starting at 0:48).

I’ll ______ you just one thing. You ______ Qaddafi, the former leader of Libya. He ______ to the United Nations, and he was making a long speech. Normally, all presidents and prime ministers, they are ______ 15 minutes. He was ______ 100 minutes. By that time, the interpreter – he has ______ his own Arabic interpreter – he couldn’t continue. He said that, “I ______ go on like this way, can anyone help me?” Then he ______.

(3) Speaking exercise: for example, get students to re-tell Mr Ban’s story using their own words.

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