Thursday, May 28, 2009


I'm watching the Scripps National Spelling Bee final round on television. It is by turn an exciting, heartbreaking, humbling experience. I've always had a pretty good vocabulary and excellent spelling apptitude, but any one of the 11 finalists would absolutely kick my ass in this competition.

If the announcer wasn't able to give the language(s) of origin, the part of speech, the definition and use the words in a sentence, I'd accuse him of making them up as he goes along.

Yet, kid after kid meets the challenge and spells complicated, multisyllabic words that I've never even heard or seen. So far, I've recognized only four -- Reykjavik, Anasazi, blancmange, and goombay. The only reason I know that last word is because they hold a Goombay Festival every fall in Key West.

I think the simplest word thus far was simnel. It's a good thing the kid asked for the definition because I sure as hell never heard of this cake often made in the Mid-Lent season.

Axolotl... herniorrophathy... hypallage...plaidoyer... arrhostia.

These kids are 13. I'm pretty sure they've been practicing spelling since they were six months old. I don't know how they aren't cracking under the pressure. I'm not related to any of them and I'm tense enough to break the bones in my jaw.

Oh no. The bell dinged, signalling that the competitor spelled his word wrong. He's crushed and covering his face with his hands as he walks over to his parents. Don't cry, young man. Be proud! Just to get to this round you spelled words that 98% of the adults around you couldn't pronounce without the phonetic spelling in the dictionary.


Hisle said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hisle said...

Oh Mary, I work with a group of non-spelling people. Sometimes I just have to shake my head at the things they come up with. Other times I am so embarrassed for them I can hardly stand it.
Sometimes they just use the wrong version of the word, such as" The patient had a soar in his mouth." Seriously? Come on.
One of the geniuses spelled Rhode Island...yep, you guessed it...Road Island. Like a said--you just gotta shake your head and wonder how they ever graduated high school?


CGHill said...

I wandered into the break room at work, and someone asked me "How do you spell 'grenache'?" I shrugged, rattled off the letters, and then turned my attention to the screen, where one of the competitors was wrestling with that word.

And, as it turns out, losing. The viewers looked at me with a combination of wary respect and sheer fear: "Dear God, what else might he know?"

Okay, it's a stretch. But not much of one.

Mary Stella said...

Intimidation through better spelling. *vbg*