Tim Torkildson was born in Minneapolis and lived here through his mid-20s, save for a stint working as a circus clown in Florida. (Seriously.) In fact, he even spent three semesters at the University of Minnesota.
After that, Torkildson bounced around, including stints in Thailand working both as a missionary and an English teacher. Back in the U.S., he got his teaching English as a foreign language certification, and earlier this year, that led to a job as a social media specialist and blogger with Nomen Global, a school in Provo, Utah that bills itself as "America's English Language School."
But that came to an end earlier this month after Torkildson published a post on the school's blog about homophones.
No, not homophobes. Homophones. You know, these:
(You can read the original post that landed Torkildson in hot water for yourself at the end of this piece, but suffice it to say he wrote about homophones in an academic, snark-less manner.)
A few days after his post was published, Torkildson was suddenly summoned into a meeting with his boss, Nomen owner Clarke Woodger.
Here's how Torkildson describes what happened next on his personal blog:
"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."We touched based with Torkildson yesterday and asked if he had any idea the homophones post might cost him his job when he was putting it together.
I said nothing, stunned into silence.
"I had to look up the word" he continued, "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."
I nodded, mute.
"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."
He rose, shook my hand, and left the conference room where we had been sitting.
(For more, click to page two.)
"It really didn't occur to me. I'm not wired that way," Torkildson tells us. "Homophones are something that are important for new language learners to learn about so they don't get all confused, that's all."
Torkildson does recognize, however, that "the prefix 'homo' is a hot-button issue," but says he's "not that naive, so I wrote the blog completely straightforward -- no innuendo, no jokes."
The story of Torkildson's termination has gone national, with Gawker picking it up yesterday. But Torkildson acknowledges the homophone post wasn't the first one that landed him in hot water with his boss.
"There were other posts [Woodger] decided he did not like on Facebook," Torkildson says. "For instance, Nomen Global has students from all over, including a student, very pretty, from Brazil. And so I snapped a picture of her, and with her permission, gave her name and wrote, 'We'd like to introduce you to our Brazilian Bombshell.'"
"That sounds perfectly inoffensive, and she didn't mind either, but [Woodger] said, 'Get that off,' and so I learned from that that he doesn't want that kind of verbiage on Facebook," Torkildson continues. "I featured lots of the pretty students because that got us more likes than anything else, but I just kept it real low-key -- 'This is Maria from Guatemala, if you'd like to say hi to her like this post' -- but [Woodger] didn't feel he needed the trouble."
The Salt Lake Tribute actually went to the trouble of contacting Woodger.
"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," Paul Rolly's reports in his column about the controversy.
Even so, after Gawker picked up Torkildson's story, Nomen Global's Facebook page was besieged with so many comments that it was taken down yesterday.
(For more, click to page three.)
"I had no intention of sabotaging Nomen Global," Torkildson says. "This is not revenge, I have no agenda, I'm just a guy trying to get along who writes a certain way about certain things."
"If a boss wants me to change it I will change it," he continues. "If [Woodger] wanted me to write about walnuts I would write about them."
Now that he's out of work, we asked Torkildson if he's considering coming back to Minnesota.
"I love Provo, Utah, and I'm going to stay here," he replies. "I'm hoping to be a freelance content provider, and if I can play this media wave I'm on, that's how I'm going to play it -- not as a martyr or a victim, but as a skilled professional who has something to offer."
To read the homophones post that landed Torkildson in hot water, click to page four.
Wednesday, July 2, 2014Send your story tips to the author, Aaron Rupar. Follow him on Twitter @atrupar.
Help with Homophones.
In English a homophone is a word that has several different meanings and spellings, but always sounds the same. The best way to learn these tricky words is to memorize them little by little. Today we will begin with homophones that start with the letter A:
· 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.
· Ate is the past tense for eat. Eight is how you spell out the number 8.
· Allowed is to do something with permission. Aloud is to vocalize, to speak.
· Ant is an insect. Aunt is your mother or father's sister.
· Assistance is help. Assistants are helpers.
Nomen Global Language Center, in Provo, Utah, has the most up-to-date teaching curriculum to help you succeed in using the English language to succeed in school, in business, and in every other important endeavor in your life.