Friday, August 1, 2014

The Strange Case of Homophonia

CBC: Language school blogger writes about homophones -- then he's fired
Timothy Torkildson during better days at
Nomen Global Language Center, in Provo, Utah.

According to, a homophone is "a word pronounced the same as another but differing in meaning, whether spelled the same way or not, as heir and air."

Or bare and bear. Or waste and waist.

When I first heard the story of Timothy Torkildson's firing from Nomen Global Language Center -- that's a language school -- in Provo, Utah, for advancing "a gay agenda," I thought maybe his boss Clarke Woodger had conflated homophone with homophobe, the word for a person who fears or hates homosexuals and homosexuality

Apparently not -- he just got stuck on the homo part.

Mr Woodger had to look up the word homophone when he read in a blog Mr Torkildson was hired to write for the school, where the latter was also in charge of social media. According to an interview aired on CBC Radio's As It Happens, the employer was concerned that readers might conclude the article had to do with "gay sex."

And so now, we also have a really good example of homophobia too. The article is posted in its entirety below, with a link to the audio interview from the radio program.

From CBC Radio's As It Happens -- July 31, 2014
 Until very recently, Timothy Torkildson blogged for the Nomen Global Language Center -- an ESL school in Provo, Utah. Earlier this month, Mr. Torkildson wrote a blog post explaining why homophones can be a difficult concept for new English speakers to grasp. Then, he was fired.
In his original post entitled "Help with Homophones," Torkildson wrote, "In English, a homophone is a word that has several different meanings and spellings, but always sounds the same. The best way to learn these tricky words is to memorize them little by little: 'Ad' is an advertisement. 'Add' is a mathematical function."

Torkildson says his boss, Clarke Woodger, expressed concern that because of his use of the term homophone, "people might think it talked about some kind of gay agenda."

When asked if Woodger knew the definition of the word, Torkildson says Woodger had to look it up in the dictionary after he read the blog.
His former employer confirmed the incident in the Salt Lake Tribune, "...people at this level of English," Woodger said, "may see the 'homo' side and think it has something to do with gay sex."

Torkildson describes the moment when he found out he was fired, "I was struck dumb. I really didn't say anything at all. My first thought was, 'I've lost my job. I wonder if I can get a good reference from him.'"

Torkildson, who used to work as a circus clown, sums up the experience this way, "Life usually is just a big joke. This is just another piece of the joke. That's how I want to treat it."

He worked at the center for less than three months before he was fired. Torkildson says he's grateful to Woodger for having offered him the job. (CBC)

Continue to CBC for audio.

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