A clear-cut case of homophonia in Utah

A clear-cut case of homophonia in Utah

Devout Utah Mormon Tim Torkildson, above, gets fired for supposedly associating the Nomen Global Language Center with homosexuality.

Torkildson, according to the Wonkette blog, is “politically conservative, a devout Mormon”, who got himself sacked for writing a blog explaining homophones: words that sound the same but have different meanings and often different spellings — such as “be” and “bee”, “through” and “threw”, and “which” and “witch”.

This was too much for the head of Utah’s largest private English as a Second Language school  that caters mostly to foreign students seeking admission to US colleges and universities. Clarke Woodger didn’t know what the word meant.

According to Torkildson, an angry Woodger said:

I had to look up the word because I didn’t know what the hell you were talking about. We don’t teach this kind of advanced stuff to our students, and it’s extremely inappropriate. Can you have your desk cleaned out by eleven this morning? I’ll have your check ready.

Now our school is going to be associated with homosexuality. People at this level of English may see the ‘homo’ side and think it has something to do with gay sex.

Torkildson says he was careful to write a straightforward explanation of homophones. He knew the “homo” part of the word could be politically charged, but he thought the explanation of that quirky part of the English language would be educational.
Woodger says his reaction to Torkildson’s blog had nothing to do with homosexuality but that Torkildson had caused him concern because he would “go off on tangents” in his blogs that would be confusing and sometimes could be considered offensive.
After Torkildson agreed to clear out his desk, the language school head told him:
Good. You’ve done a good job on most things, but you’re just not reliable enough. I never have any idea what you’re going to do next. I can’t run my business that way. You’d probably make a great college professor, but since you don’t have a degree you’ll never get that kind of work. I would advise you to try something clerical, where you’ll be closely supervised and have immediate goals at all times. That’s the only kind of job you’ll ever succeed at. I’ll be happy to give you a good reference. Good-bye, and good luck.
The Salt Lake Tribune’s Paul Rolly checked Torkildson’s story with Woodger, who explained that the students who attend Nomen are at a very basic level of English, and just aren’t ready for “complicated concepts” like homophones.

22 responses to “A clear-cut case of homophonia in Utah”

  1. Norman Paterson says:

    With a name like “Woodger” I’d be careful about language use. I wonder how he would react to being told he is a Homo sapiens? At least he wasn’t niggardly about giving a good reference.

  2. Angela_K says:

    These dunderheads probably think a homophone is type of Telephone made for Gay people.

  3. Stephen Mynett says:

    Norman, it could be worse for him if he realised a distant ancestor could be Homo erectus.

    What sort of school is this, supposedly preparing students for higher education yet they say: “We don’t teach this kind of advanced stuff to our students.” I realise that many universities, especially in England, are now politically correct enough to be over lenient with bad English in dissertations but that is no excuse for not teaching students fairly basic stuff.

  4. Vijen says:

    Only in US English are “aunt” and “ant” homophones.

  5. L.Long says:

    This is an example of why I try not to call these type of ignorant Aholes STUPID.
    It would be an insult to stupid people to be compared to him! And be giving Woodger a compliment! Woodger is so ignorant that it would take years of training to raise to the level of stupid.
    This reminds me of the politician that used the word nigerly to describe a black guy. He got blasted by many people (showing their intense ignorance). As the word is Scandinavian and means ‘monetary tight wad’.

  6. barriejohn says:

    “Ooh – what a basket (Kenneth Williams voice). Just vada that ugly eek. I got on me polari pipe and told all the omis about this.”

    If only everyone used clear and comprehensible language when communicating with others!

  7. David Anderson says:

    L. Long: Um, niggard.

  8. barriejohn says:

    I was reading this earlier. Gardener’s World uses racist terminology like “native species”!

  9. Angela_K says:

    @Barriejohn, I love camp polari especially when spoken by Kenneth Williams. If people new what Julian and Sandy saying back when “Round the Horne” was on the “Light programme” they’d have a fit of the vapours.

  10. barriejohn says:

    Angela: I don’t know how they got away with it in an age when all scripts had to be submitted for vetting by the Lord Chamberlain. I remain convinced that the bigwigs at the BBC knew exactly what was being said. I knew strait-laced Christians, whose faces barely broke into a smile, who roared at it. One of the most outrageous was the episode when Julian and Sandy had a cafe and one of them had “had his hand in a dish all morning”. The funniest, though, was the legal practice called Bona Law, as even I got that one!

  11. Norman Paterson says:

    Vijen – in Scottish English, “aunt” and “ant” are homophones.

    Regarding doubles entendres on BBC Radio, try “I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue” on Monday at 18:30 and again sometime on Sunday. There’s usually a filthy joke involving the lovely Samantha (who does not actually exist except in listeners’ fevered imaginations).

    I was disappointed to discover that “Law in Action” had nothing to do with loins. “New Direction” was another disappointment …

  12. Norman Paterson says:

    * Radio 4 that is.

  13. Broga says:

    From the days when my kids were young enough to watch I thought “Master Bates” was really classy. There were others but I can’t remember them.

    On the contemporary scene what about “Pussy Riot.”

    There was also “Whole lotta shakin’ going on” – Jerry Lee Lewis, I think. Jerry himself was amazed they got away with this.

  14. Stephen Mynett says:

    I seem to remember a lot of pussy references in the sitcom Are You Being Served. The BBC has always been excellent at adopting double standards, banning things for hardly any reason but letting other go. A great example was the brilliant protest song by Ian Dury “Spasticus Autisicus”, banned by the BBC despite mostly all disabled groups saying it was a great protest song. The BBC eventually played the song they banned when it was used as part of the opening ceremony in the Paralympics at London.

  15. barriejohn says:

    Stephen Myers: Despite what they say to the contrary, there are a number of double meanings in Dad’s Army. On another level, Gimme,Gimme,Gimme was a BBC series. I hadn’t come across the term “Sugar Walls” before I watched that!

  16. barriejohn says:

    Sorry; I meant Stephen Mynett!

  17. L.Long says:

    Thanks Dave for the correct spelling.

  18. Matt Westwood says:

    Apparently Tom Torkildson got a job in the mathematics department of another Utah institution of learning, but got fired from there after the piece he wrote about group homomorphisms.

    At least he didn’t write some training materials discussing the pedagogical approach to learning, which is also famous for once getting someone else fired (according to The Dilbert Zone).

  19. Norman Paterson says:

    Does he drink homogenised milk?
    How do these people live? At any sign of the letters H-O-M-O they seem to go into a paroxysm. They must be as ignorant as shit.

  20. Robster says:

    Perhaps it’s the sodium level of the air in Salt Lake City that leads to a certain level of bizarre madness, or there’s something in the water, or those afflicted with mormonism are just rather silly people, I’d go the latter.

  21. Ooh – Mormon. Sounds a bit like Moron. Am I sacked because some shit-dumb Americans might confuse the two?