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You Don't Say

You can't fix stupid

The Baltimore Sun

And you can't make this stuff up. 

On Language Log today there is a link to an article in The Salt Lake Tribune on the firing of an instructor at a school teaching English as a second language. Tim Torkildson says that his boss at Nomen Global Language Center, Clarke Woodger, discharged him for writing a blog post on homophones. The explanation Mr. Torkildson says Mr. Woodger gave: "Now our school is going to be associated with homosexuality."

Having worked with bosses who assumed that everyone else was a dumb as they were, I have no difficulty crediting this account. 

A commenter at Language Log wonders whether English might prove to have a larger number of homophones. Given its bastard heritage, that would be an interesting issue for linguists to explore. 

But it is manifest that English has a large number of homonyms. They fall into two classes: homophones, which sound alike, though they are spelled differently, such as lead (n.) and led; and homographs, which are spelled the same but have different pronunciations, such as lead (v.) and lead (n.). 

These become as treacherous for native speakers as for students learning English as a second language. Spell-check functions will not protect you from confusion, and straightening out homonyms remains a constant labor for editors.

With regard to Mr. Woodger, I would caution against cheap shots about the supposed ignorance of Utahns, keeping in mind Harlan Ellison's observation, "The two most common elements in the universe are hydrogen and stupidity." We are surrounded by both.  

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