When I started my own business, I wanted to call it something that would stand out. I was new to my community with a seven syllable tongue twister for a name, so I knew I needed something different. I was offering website development and hosting, and I wanted something that would reflect my approach: direct, honest, and easy to understand. The idiom for that is straight talk.
straight (strāt) —adj. extending or moving uniformly in one direction only; without a curve or bend
I wanted to include a place name too, to emphasize that I was a local business. I live on the Strait of Georgia, so that’s where the homophone comes in: Strait Talk.
strait (strāt) —n. a narrow passage of water connecting two seas or two large areas of water
A wise person tried to talk me out of it. “An idiom and a pun? You’ll confuse people,” she said.
“If they want language help, I offer that too,” I replied.
“You might offend members of the LGBT community,” she countered.
“Only the ones who can’t spell,” I said.
It turned out to be a fine name. As far as I know, it never offended anyone. It even won a few smiles—or at least, smirks. Business was good for over ten years.
The first sign of trouble came in the middle of the night. Self-employed, my business phone was my home phone. My phone never rings in the middle of the night. I don't know about you, but whenever the phone rings in the middle of the night, all I hear is Richard Lewis ranting, "Death in the family! Death in the family!" Fortunately it was only an angry voice and a poor connection. The only words I could discern were Strait Talk. The tirade lasted for less than a minute, and although it was a bit unnerving, I shrugged it off—maybe I was dreaming.
A few more of those along with some email and I quickly discovered my inadvertent connection to the Straight Talk phone plan. (There's absolutely no connection, except it sounds the same.)
I removed my phone number from my website. Potential clients would be happy to send an email rather than pick up the phone, right? But the internet has a lovely way of caching such information, so the angry calls didn’t stop, forcing me to change my number. Meanwhile, it turns out potential clients—and existing ones—weren't so keen about sending an email. I started hearing, “You’re difficult to reach.” For the first time in eleven years, my business was providing lousy customer service.
What had once been a month’s worth of traffic was now visiting my website daily. It wasn’t long before my server crashed... and kept crashing. For two days, my clients were without their websites—and worse, they were without their email. Not being a fan of stomach ulcers, I rerouted everyone to a new server. The backlog of email was delivered, and the world didn’t end, but it sure took a toll on my business. I lost my best clients... all because of a homophone.
homophone (häm'ǝfōn) —n. a word pronounced the same as another but differing in meaning
Precarious things, these homophones. It's certainly not the first time they've cost someone a job. So, with hindsight being twenty-twenty, you may wonder… if I had it to do all over again, would I?
Want to learn more about homophones? Brian McKnight and Cleo the Lion have a fun music video for that!