2005 National Spelling Bee XXVI
Bill Long 2/25/07
Finishing the Bee
These are some difficult words from the final rounds of the bee. Let's turn to them: agio, brunizem, tontiner, agnolotti, nopalry, odylic, canitist, onomasiologic, ceraunograph, exsiccosis, sobornost, trouvaille and Roscian. Actually, some of these words are easier than in earlier rounds, though I dare say that many of them won't cross too many lips this week.
1. Our word agio is derived from the Italian aggio and means a "premium" or the amount charged for changing certain kinds of money (paper to coin; one country currency to another). From 1860: "The agio exacted in changing common money into sacred, or the shekel into two half-shekels was great." Any kind of money changing or exchange business could be called an agio. "He was skilled in the mysteries of agio."
2. Brunizem is prairie soil developed from loess and occurring especially in Iowa. We also have the word chernozem in English, going back to the 1840s, and meaning "black soil." The word chernozem comes from the Russian, meaning "black earth." But brunizem, attested only in the Unabridged, is derived from Late Latin (brunus is brown). I don't know who developed the word or when it was coined, but it appears about 1/10 as often as chernozem in Google searches.
3. A tontiner is a sharer in a financial arrangement called a tontine. A tontine is an arrangement started by the Italian financier Lorenzo Tonti, who originated the scheme in France ca. 1653. It combines features of a group annuity, group life insurance and lottery. Here is the explanation of it, from a Wikipedia article:
"The basic concept is simple. Each investor pays a sum into the tontine. The funds are invested and each investor receives dividends. As each investor dies, his or her share is divided amongst the surviving investors. This process continues until only one investor survives. Originally, the last surviving subscriber received only the dividends: the capital reverted to the state upon his or her death and was used to fund public works projects, which often contained the word "tontine" in their name. In a later variation, the capital would devolve upon the last survivor, effectively dissolving the trust, and it is this version that has often been the plot device for mysteries and detective stories."
Fun, isn't it? Much more interesting that just learning to spell the word. I may want to read some "tontine" detective fiction after this essay!
4. The word agnolotti again plunges us into European (Italian) cuisine. They are Piedmontese stuffed pasta and come in many different varieties, some filled with cheese, some meat, and some are meatless. As I mentioned in the previous essay, you can become a great speller if you have lots of medical problems. Now I refine that dictum. You can be a great speller if you have learned to eat real well!
5. Nopalry can best be understood when we know what a nopal is. Nopals are vegetables made from young prickly pears, and are particularly common in Mexico. In some Mexican restaurants you can order "huevos con nopales" or "tacos de nopales." The "nopal industry" in Mexico is a $150 million a year industry. Now we are ready for nopalry--a nopal, or cactus, plantation for raising cochineal insects. I am not getting into insects here..
6. Odylic relates to the theory of "od." Well, inasmuch as no one goes around speaking of "od" these days, it might be nice to know that it was a 19th century theory developed the by German scientist Baron Karl von Reichenbach. Actually, Reichenbach is considered by many to be one of the "top 1000" scientists of all time (giving to us words and things such as eupione, paraffin, pittacal--good spelling words, too!) but during his later life he investigated the human nervous system and came up with this word (derived from "Odin"--the chief Norse God) to describe an imponderable force allied with magnetism, electricity and heat which he called the "Odic force" or, simply, Od. Something odylic, therfore, relates to the theory of this power. Of course the theory was probably discredited as soon as he uttered it, but he bequeathed the word od to us, and the first English translation of his work in 1850 had this sentence: "We have placed beyond a doubt, the existence of transversality in the odylic phenomenon." Right. So, odylic exists now only to torment spellers. Not very idyllic, is it?
7. A canitist is someone who dyes or tints hair at a beauty shop. The "hair" part of the word is derived from "canities," which means grayness or whiteness of hair (Latin, canus, means white).
8. The word onomasiologic was invented by a linguist in 1962 to define an expert in the field of onomasiology. Thanks, Bill. That word (onomasiology--derived from the Greek for "name" and "study") was invented in 1921 to mean "The study of language which deals with the identification of a preconceived meaning or concept by name or names." It is opposed to semasiology, where words are analyzed for meanings they represent. Thus an onomasiologic question asks what a "long narrow piece of potato that has been deep fried" is; i.e., what is its "name." You can spend your whole life doing this, but not on this page.
9. A ceraunograph is an instrument for recording the occurrence of thunder and lightning. We ran into ceraunophobia in another essay but I commented that we really didn't need that term after we had invented brontophobia in the late 19th century. But a ceraunograph could be useful...
10. Exsiccosis is "an insufficient intake of fluids or the state of bodily dehydration produced thereby." There are loads of useful terms derived from the verb exsiccate, which is the general term for drying, draining or making something dry. We have exsiccation, exsiccant and others. I even came up with a "Billphorism" about the word--about a "dry-as-dust exsiccative summary of a report."
11. Sobornost comes from Russian and literally means "conciliarity." A sobor is an ecclesiastical synod, council, or assembly of the Eastern Orthodox Church, and sobornost is spiritual harmony based on freedom and unity in love. It is the Russian term stressing the same thing as the Greek-derived word "ecumenical."
12. A trouvaille (tru VI) is a windfall or lucky find. The word came into English in 1753 and still seems to be very useful today.
13. Finally, we come to the word Roscian, which should actually cause no difficulty for those with any familiarity with Cicero. The Roscius to whom this word pertains was a 1st century B.C. actor. Thus, Roscian just means "famous or eminent in respect of acting." It is probably a synonym of thespian, Thespis being the traditional father of Greek tragedy. So we have Greek and Latin words for the same thing, though I would think that no one would know what you are talking about if you say you engage in Roscian activities, though everyone would know what you mean if you say you perform Thespian activities.
So ends our Bee and our slow and patient working through hundreds of words. I will turn to other Bees presently, but I need to decide how best to keep searching through words. Thanks for joining me.