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Should You Get Fired for Being a 'Homophone'?
By: Jeannine Wheeler
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I hope you read that carefully. That was homophone, not homophobe. For one Utah language school blogger, however, no matter how carefully it was spelled out, it still meant "You’re fired!"

That’s allegedly what happened to Tim Torkildson, social media and content provider for the Nomen Global Language Center in Provo Utah, after the owner of the school read his blog about homophones.

Owner Clarke Woodger accused him of possibly causing the school to be associated with a gay agenda, according to Torkildson.

Torkildson wrote about the late-July firing in his own blog iwritethebloggs: “I’m letting you go because I can’t trust you,” said Woodger. “This blog about homophones was the last straw. Now our school is going to be associated with homosexuality.”

If you recall your grammar school English, homophones are words that sound the same but have different meanings, such as be and bee, red and read, and flu and flew.

About the firing, Torkildson heard from Woodger that "'Some people might think that a blog on homophones has something to do with homosexuality.’ And that’s as far as he went on that. He said he hadn’t looked the word up, and then he realized what it was. His objection mainly was he thought the students at the school would not understand. And they would become offended or think the school would have some kind of gay agenda.”

Purportedly, Woodger told Torkildson that homophones were beyond the understanding of the majority of the students at Nomen, who were mostly at the basic levels of learning the language.

Nomen is Utah’s largest private English as a Second Language school, catering mostly to foreign students seeking admission to U.S. colleges and universities. According to Woodger, the school has taught 6,500 students from 58 countries during the past 15 years.

To be honest, I don’t think the concept of homophones is all that complicated for beginning-level students. Learning them all, however, can be very tricky, as there are hundreds of them.

There is even a whole website dedicated to the love of homophones, with a complete list of those used in the English language. The Alfred Aloisi Associates site can be found at www.homophone.com.

While the firing story, which has gotten a fair amount of play (most of it snarky), is not going to be the crowning moment of the Nomen school, it has done the service of reminding us all just how difficult English as a language is to learn.

Kernel and colonel are a particularly good example of the difficulty of the task.

How many homophones can you name?


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About the Author
Jeannine Wheeler is a PR Director who has worked in three countries, including Russia, the US and the UK. She is currently Sr. Vice President of Pure Energy PR, a full-service boutique communications firm with a focus on the energy, healthcare, technology, construction, real estate & land development, tourism & hospitality and food & beverage industries. Jeannine is in the firm's Austin, Texas office.
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