*Apologies to my regular blog readers, as this week’s installment won’t differ all that much from the published column. This is what happens when your computer has to go into the shop and you only have a mini-tab at home
(which is also why the pics are wonky … I’ll try to fix it at work).
Hopefully this one will actually post, as my Sunday piece didn’t for some reason … (Update: Yea, it did!)
When I was a very young child, I was quite worried about armed apes. I couldn’t imagine what we humans had done to incur the wrath of all those gorillas I’d hear about on the news.
That was before I started school and learned about homophones—words that are pronounced the same as another word but have different meanings, and sometimes different spellings. My angst about militarized rebel primates thus switched to the human variety.
I still, though, occasionally imagine gorilla guerrillas, and I’m not the only one, apparently. The Wikipedia entry for “guerrilla warfare” notes that it isn’t to be confused with “gorilla.” (Would King Kong have to have a background check for a gun? And would we have to bring Charlton Heston back from the dead to fight these damn dirty apes?)
I’ve been reminded of that childhood misunderstanding lately because of a profusion of homophone mishaps and amusing misspellings here and elsewhere.
Between people practicing the “tenants” of their religion, being a loose “canon,” and fear of “rouge” nations, I’ve been laughing an awful lot lately. When I saw “rain of terror” recently, I was almost beside myself … especially as it’s been raining so much lately. It made me a little afraid to venture outside.
(As an aside, we’re not talking about homographs here, which are words that are spelled the same but pronounced differently and with different meanings, like “bass,” a fish my dad and brothers hungered for, and “bass,” a deep voice. That’s a different issue entirely.)
You might remember the story of Tim Torkildson, who said he was fired last year from a Nomen Global Language Center in Utah after posting on the school’s blog an entry on homophones.
He told Salt Lake City television station Fox 13 that his boss “was now afraid that people would associate Nomen Global with some kind of gay agenda. That was his fear. And he expressed his frustration to me very clearly. He just said, ‘This particular blog is the last straw.’” The school removed the post and fired Torkildson, who admitted it wasn’t the first blog post to get him in trouble with his boss.
Pretty impressive for someone who’d only worked there for three months.
The Salt Lake Tribune’s Paul Rolly contacted Torkildson’s former boss, Clarke Woodger. Rolly reported: “Woodger says his reaction to Torkildson’s blog has 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.”
The school caters mostly to foreign students seeking admission to U.S. colleges; Woodger told Rolly that “people at this level of English may see the ‘homo’ side and think it has something to do with gay sex.”
So … does he believe these people would think the same about homogenized milk or homo sapiens in general? Surely not …
Torkildson, meanwhile, told the Minneapolis City Pages blog: “Homophones are something that are important for new language learners to learn about so they don’t get all confused, that’s all.”
I have to agree with Torkildson, who served as the company’s social media specialist, on that; his very straightforward post simply defined homophones and gave examples:
“Ad is an advertisement. Add is a mathematical function. Ail is to be sick. Ale is an alcoholic beverage. Aye means yes. Eye is what you see with. Air is what you breathe. Err is to make a mistake. Heir is someone who inherits. …”
Torkildson, a humorist and former clown (OK, that’s creepy), admirably said he left the humor out of that particular post specifically because of the politically charged nature of the homo- prefix.
More than non-native speakers need lessons on homophones; everyday people, including some writers, need them as well (I include myself in this number, as I have been known to mistype to/too/two).
Sometimes spell-check just won’t help.
At times I live in fear of compromising my principals simply by reaching across the isle and listening to someone with whom I disagree. (No, I don’t … have you read me before?) Even in the kitchen, I Shirley don’t wont to let go of the reigns if I get a little board. And after awl, who noes what havoc could be reeked on our pallets if we were to be served inferior chocolate moose (cue the Swedish Chef)?
Yep, I went there … and now I think I need therapy.
Bonnie Trenga Mills notes on the Grammar Girl blog that “the only way to catch word errors is to become suspicious, paranoid, and worried. … Start thinking like a proofreader. Pair up similar-sounding words in your brain, and when you come across one, do a double take to ensure you’ve written the right one.”
And while you’re at it, be sure you know how to comfort a grammar Nazi on the verge of exploding over this topic: Pat him on the back, and say “There, their, they’re.”
One additional note: I’m not reposting Sunday’s post, which was itself a repost of a Mother’s Day piece I wrote two years ago. Knowing I would likely be computerless at least for the weekend. I had set it up before I left work Friday to post on Sunday, but it didn’t happen.
I’m not all that upset that it didn’t post, but I had dedicated it to my paternal grandmother, Shirley Kelly Looper Kaylor, who died Thursday at the age of 94. If you are so inclined, please make memorial contributions to Temple Baptist Church, 5100 S. 31st St., Fort Smith, AR 72903, or to Alzheimer’s disease or stroke research. Thank you.