The Seattle Spelling Bee I--3/3/08
Bill Long 3/4/08
At the Re-bar on Howell Street
My friend Randy, who earned 2nd place in the National Senior Spelling Bee last year, emailed me to say that the Seattle spelling bee at the Re-bar, which began early in 2007, will be concluding in April 2008. Thus, if I wanted to try to "qualify" for the finals, I needed to make my way post-haste to Seattle on March 3 in order to participate in the last "qualifying" bee before the April grand finale.
I already had a commitment for the night of March 3 in Salem, OR, but I decided to break it, pure and simple. Thus, in this and the next few essays there are really two themes vying for attention--my performance at the Re-bar bee (but, more important, the words used at the bee) and my newly- felt freedom as a result of breaking my word with respect to my commitment in Salem.
So as not to bore you on the latter theme, let's plunge right into the bee, the words, and the spellers. There were about 20 participants, mostly people from late 20s to late 50s. Most were studious sorts, though the occasional young person who was just "winging it" added a nice touch of desperation and unexpected humor. The two hosts had a back-and-forth banter that was worth the price of admission.
The rules of the Re-bar bee are slightly different than those at the Mississippi Pizza Pub in Portland. At the Re-bar each speller is brought up on the stage individually and, in the first round, asked to spell one word. In the second round, s/he spells two words and then, in the third round, three words. On the third mistake s/he is eliminated. First round words this time were taken from a list of 250 most commonly misspelled words in English. The second-round words were slightly more difficult but were probably at the "mid-college" level. The third-round words were meant to eliminate people. And, in fact, they served that purpose. At the end of the third round (where each speller had had as many as six words to spell), the situation looked like this: one speller had gotten all six words correct and six spellers had missed two words. The rest had been eliminated. Thus, there was a "spell-off" among the six remaining spellers to determine who would get second and third place. I was fortunate in being the person who missed no words--maybe they were gracious to me as a visitor and only decided to give me words I knew. In any case, the bee finished after about 2 1/2 hours, and I walked out with $20 of drink tickets which I don't think I will be able to use. Since I probably will be unavailable for the April "grand finale," I will just have to use the tickets some other occasion when visiting my beautiful daughter in Seattle.
Indeed, though I went up there for the bee, one of the highlights of my trip was visiting my daughter, who is making her way very well in Seattle. She is smart, attractive, a lot of fun, and she was kind enough to accompany me to dinner and then to the spelling bee (which was probably a real yawner for her). Let's get to the bee..
The Earlier Rounds
Like the Portland bee, the Seattle bee also begins with relatively easy words for the first few rounds. However, they do throw in some ringers, and I first want to mention some of them from rounds 1 and 2. The hosts seemed to be fond of adjectives ending in "y" or "ey" this time, and so we had chocolaty, gardeny, flannelly and sunshiny. Since we follow the spelling of the 3rd New International, we didn't have alternative spellings for chocolaty. That is too bad, since the only two attestations in the OED go as follows: (1) from the Economist in 1965: "The prices of so many sugary, chocolaty things.."; and (2) from Vogue in 1969: "The stripes are red and grey and chocolatey brown." And, interestingly enough, there are 3X the number of "Google results" for chocolatey as chocolaty. But chocolaty it will be, if the 3rd prevails....
A Few Difficult Words From Rounds 1 and 2
Difficult words from the first two rounds included daiquiri, mignonette, warlockry, netiquette and tatami. I hadn't run into the word warlockry previously: it means "the practice of magic by men or male beings; wizardry." Though its origin only is traced to 1818 ("Hence proceed...the warlockry and fortune-telling abilities of the shrewd sagacious gypsies"), the OED says it already is obsolete. But this word sent me on a little bit of a journey from which I may never recover. Let me tell you about it.
Since I hadn't run into "warlockry" previously, I decided to look at the underlying word: warlock. The OED tells us that it is derived from an Old English word meaning "traitor" or "oath-breaker," and indeed that is the first meaning of the term when it appears in the 11th century. I won't go into the etymological details to explain why "war" is ultimately derived from the Latin verus (true) and "lock" seems to be related to a medieval "loge" (to lie), so that a warlock is a "truth liar" or an "oath-breaker," so let's move on. The word evolved in the following way. First, by the 13th century, it could mean a wicked person generally, and it became a term of abuse. An obsolete meaning of "warlock" is "The Devil" or "Satan." The OED indicates that this is a frequent use of the term in Cursor Mundi.
I feel loath to admit, though it is true, that I know next to nothing about this 30,000 line poem from the early 14th century written by a cleric in Middle English. The Latin means "Runner of the World," and the poem, popular in its time, is written in eight-syllabled couplets and attempts to tell the history of the world with a focus on the acts of salvation in Christ. Here is a brief article about it. Here is part V of the poem, beginning at about line 23,000, with the Gottingen and Edinburgh manuscripts side by side. I bet you think that one manuscript tradition is enough for you, but no, we have many. And then, we need someone to "translate" the words into more modern English. Just think, I am only beginning to memorize Paradise Lost, with several other epics on my mind, and when will I have time to learn Cursor Mundi the way that I should?
In any case, let's return to "warlock," a word originally pointing to someone who broke his oath but then being extended in meaning to a general term of abuse, a reference to Satan and, then, a savage or monstrous creature opposed to men and, finally, "one in league with the Devil and so possessing occult and evil powers; a sorcerer; a wizard." From 1685 we have: "An eminent Warlock, whose name was Robert Grieve." Or, from Robert Burns in 1795: "I gaed to the tryste o'Dalgarnock, And wha but my fine fickle lover was there! I glowr'd as I'd seen a warlock, a warlock." The term had most use in Scottish writers until Longfellow picked it up in 1860: "In their real forms appeared/ The warlocks weird, Awful as the Witch of Endor."
Good thing the 19th century writers knew their Bible, isn't it? I have seen many a good speller fall in 21st century Bees because they didn't know their Bible. Randy, last night, did get a clever Biblical word correct--shibboleth (I will leave it to you to try to figure me out on that one), but a contestant missed "Perizzite," which is a piece of cake to anyone who knows Nehemiah. For example, Neh 9:8 reads:
"You made a promise to him to give the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Jebusites and Girgashites to his descendants."
Ezra 9:1 has a similar list, though it drones on a bit longer.
This got us through the first two rounds. I would say that of the 20 spellers, about half had missed one word and maybe 2 or 3 had missed more than one word so far. Now the going got really tough.
Copyright © 2004-2008 William R. Long