2005 National Spelling Bee
Bill Long 1/29/07
"Finishing" Round 2
Round 2 was a very difficult round, and it sliced off more than 70 of the remaining competitors (more than 1/4). Round 3 actually saw comparatively easy words. I want to write on ten more words from Round 2. They are all pretty dull words, and I will try to spice them up where possible. They are: Boyg, hokku, bozzetto, iodopsin, rafale, antenati, monomeniscous, succivorous, tichorrhine and veneniferous.
1. Boyg, usually capitalized, is the Norwegian word for "curve" or "bend," and appears in the Unabridged as "a formless or pervasive obstacle, problem, or enemy (as despair or public apathy or popular ignorance). Graham Greene used the word: "battling against the great amorphous Boyg." There is a character so named in Peer Gynt Act 2 Scene 7. Peer Gynt is a most modern of young men, searching the world for some indefinable experience of self-discovery. In Act 2 he finds himself at the palace of the Troll King. When the trolls want to blind Peer, he tries to escape. We then hear a church bell, and Peer is (miraculously?) wandering in darkness, where he encounters the mysterious Boyg, who suggests a roundabout way (i.e., "curve") to his destination. Well, the only virtue of this word in the Bee is that now we have had words from about 10 languages so far.
2. I really don't know the difference among hokku and haiku and haikai. The OED has them under the same word (haiku), while the Unabridged has two separate entries where the words are defined almost identically. The only distinction I can limn is that the haiku is a late 19th century development of the hokku and supposedly relates to seasons of the year. Well, we know that such a poetic expression is a "Lilliputian lyric of but three unrhymed lines of five, seven, and five syllables respectively..in which is deftly caught a thought-flash or swift impression. An example:
"The west wind whispered
And touched the eyelids of Spring:
Her eyes, Primroses."
3. A bozzetto is a miniature model or a sketch for a larger painting. The Italian word bozzetto is used in the sentence "fare un bozzetto" (to make a sketch) or is synonymous with "un breve racconto" (a brief sketch). Thus, the Italian usage is broader than the English because it also comprises an oral retelling or summary of something. If we are willing to bring part of the Italian signification into English, why not the whole thing?
4. Iodopsin only appears in the Unabridged dictionary and means "a photosensitive violet pigment in the retinal cones of most animals." Just for your information, it is similar to "rhodopsin but more labile." It is derived from the two Greek words for purple ("io") and sight ("opsis"). Whoopee is all I can say to this word.
5. Rafale is a French term meaning a gust of wind, but in English it is a burst of gun-fire or a roll of drums. The earliest attestations of the word in English (1903) said that it was synonymous with "shell-storm." A 1931 attestation is pleasant: "Now the staccato ear-splitting rafale of cheering rowels them afresh."
6. Antenati are those "born before" or, more precisely, a person born before a certain event or time, esp. in relation to the existence of political rights. So, one could speak of the eligibility of antenati to hold office (opp. is postnati). The OED doesn't have the noun, but does have antenatal, as in "memories of an antenatal life."
7. Monomeniscous is not only almost impossible to spell, because the root word is meniscus, but also has had few attestations in the last 125 years. Thus, we have a classic instance of an obsolete word. Nevertheless, the Bee-makers decided to use it. Very bad choice. It relates to vertebrates and means "having one lens" in the eye. Poor Erin Jones of WV got and, predictably, missed this word.
8. Succivorous was also predictably misspelled. Not in the OED, succivorous does appear in the Unabridged and is only defined, helpfully, as "phytosuccivorous." Well, we just have to take the word apart to realize that "vorous" means "eating" (e.g., carnivorous) and "succi" comes from "succus," meaning "sap." So, I guess it is sap lapping or something like that. But the word is confusing for another reason. The genitive of "succus," which provides the stem for foreign language words, is "sucus." Thus, we would expect it to be spelled sucivorous. But in fact it is an "ISV" word--International Scientific Vocabulary, and they think the prefix is "succi." Hence the spelling. But the OED has words from this stem which the Unabridged doesn't have. For example, succose means "full of juice or sap," and "succosity" means "juice, moisture." I can't help but thinking that this all sucks.
9. The problems increase for tichorrhine principally because the OED and the Unabridged spell it differently. The OED has tichorhine. A quick Google search yielded few results for either, though tichorrhine had more. The OED says that the word, meaning "having an ossified nasal septum," is derived from the Greek word for wall, teichos, and nose, rhino. Because there are hardly any words in English derived from teichos, the use of tichorrhine or tichorhine is useful only to eliminate a speller, which it did. Actually, I know one word derived from teichos in Greek: it is teichoscopy--the scene on the wall from Iliad III. Why did we have two different formations from teichos? I don't know, but I do know that words from the International Scientific Vocabulary are often only tangentially related to the original classical language.
10. Let's conclude this essay with veneniferous. At least this word might have some utility to it. It means "flowing with or discharging venom/poison." One might speak of the veneniferous fang of a rattlesnake, for example. Just as a crucifer carries the cross in an Episcopal liturgy, as Lucifer was the great bearer of the light, so venenifer, in Latin, means something that carries poison. But the word's primary importance in our culture is as a word in the National Spelling Bee. A young man in 1997 got it wrong, but our 2005 speller got it right. Ah, progress in eight years.
Let's now move to Round 3. I hope the words flow much more quickly and that there are more interesting words for us.