Anyone well-grounded in English knows about certain tricky words that sound alike but have different meanings. An example is ‘lead’ (a mineral) and ‘led’ (the past tense of the verb ‘to lead’).
The worst, for most of us, is the three-fer, there/their/they’re – I know the different uses of these three quite well, thank you, but when I get typing fast, I often insert the wrong one (or at least that’s my alibi whenever I screw up).
These sound-alikes are called ‘homophones‘. Which turned out to be an unfortunate label for a guy who wrote for a certain English as a second language school last year.
Just ask a blogger … named Tim Torkildson. For three months in 2014, Torkildson was a social media specialist and blogger for the Nomen Global Language Center, a Utah-based English-language school for non-English speakers. In July of that year, as part of that job, Torkildson wrote a blog post … for Nomen’s official blog. Titled “Help with Homophones #1,” the missive was hardly a manifesto — it simply instructed readers about a few trap words which sound alike but are spelled differently. (A screenshot of the post, cached, can be found here, via the Daily Mail.) It seemed entirely appropriate for the job Torkildson was hired to do, and innocuous nonetheless.
His boss didn’t see it that way. As Torkildson recounted on another now-deleted … blog post, the first chapter of his homophones work would be his last:
“I’m letting you go because I can’t trust you” said Clarke Woodger, my boss and the owner of Nomen Global Language Center. “This blog about homophones was the last straw. Now our school is going to be associated with homosexuality.”