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Private school employee fired for consorting with homophones

Nomen Global Language Center, a private ESL school in Utah catering to foreign students seeking admission to U.S. colleges, has fired social media specialist Tim Torkildson for writing a blog post about homophones.  The Salt Lake Tribune quoted the school’s owner, Clarke Woodger, as complaining that, “Now our school is going to be associated with homosexuality.”

I don’t believe Mr. Woodger is an ignoramus.  He probably knows what a homophone is.  (See dictionary definition here.) Nor does it appear he made a hasty, knee-jerk decision to fire Mr. Torkildson.  To the contrary, he appears to have given it extensive thought:

“Woodger says his school has taught 6,500 students from 58 countries during the past 15 years. Most of them, he says, are at basic levels of English and are not ready for the more complicated concepts such as homophones.”  He characterized Torkildson’s blog as “confusing and offensive.”  (Quoting again from the Salt Lake Tribune article, which you can read here.)

Rather, this appears to be a case of overthinking.  That is, thinking too much about a problem can lead to stupid decisions.  This is no knock on Mr. Woodger; we’re all prone to this tendency, and Mr. Woodger’s example serves as an object lesson for all of us.

Before we go further, let’s put ourselves in Mr. Woodger’s shoes, and try to follow his reasoning to its logical end point.  He objects to words with the root “homo” in them, because it might trigger associations with homo-you-know-what.  Fair enough, I won’t argue with that.

But now consider the practical difficulties of banning from the written and spoken lexicon every word with “homo” in it.  If your wife sends you to work with a grocery list that includes “homogenized milk,” you’d better not get caught with it.  Leave it in your car, and park on the street, not in your employer’s parking lot.  Likewise, if you’re a math teacher, don’t be overheard discussing a “homologous algebra formula” with your colleagues, lest your conversation poison the minds of susceptible children.  And you can’t be an employee of, nor a student at, Nomen Global Language Center if you are a homo sapiens.

I don’t see how this ends well for Mr. Woodger and Nomen Global Language Center, given that we’re all “homos,” unless you can change yourself into a rabbit (or lion, giraffe, or whatever).  That drastically narrows his pool of potential employees and students.  I think he’ll have to devise some sort of workaround if he wants to stay in business.

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