National Spelling Bee II (2006)
Bill Long 6/1/06
Congratulations to Winner Carrie Close (NJ)
I was interested to learn that of the 50 or so final words, which I will go over in this essay, only about two or three are in the Collegiate, the dictionary we use for the National Senior Spelling Bee in Wyoming. Eventually, in my judgment, the organizers of that event will have to move to a bigger dictionary than the one we now use, though things are serviceable for now.
I began to watch the bee in the 9th round. Here are the words, with an occasional comment from me. Carrie Close, the eventual winner, got towhee, which the OED defines as the "ground-robin (finch) or cheewink of North America." Interestingly enough, the Unabridged speaks of it as the chewink. Good think they asked for the spelling of towhee!
Michael Christie then spelled coryphaeus correctly. The word comes directly from the Greek (koryphaios), and means "chief, head man, leader." Actually, though a knowledge of Greek and Latin is essential to understand English words, a thorough knowledge of those languages may be harmful because you not only have to know the languages but also the transliteration conventions (when does a "k" become a "c," for example? Does "ai" in Greek always become an "ae" in English?) between languages. It is even more difficult, of course, for other languages. Just look up the variety of ways that various dictionaries spell the word xebec (17th century Arabic ship). We still don't have a standardized English spelling of the Muslim holy book..
Saryn Hooks then correctly spellec sphacelated, a word from pathology meaning gangrenous or mortified, and from botany meaning dead. The word is from the Latin, but one needs to know that it is from medieval Latin and thus the word appears nowhere in the 2000 pages of the Oxford Latin Dictionary. The OLD is rather a "snob" dictionary, only giving the Latin of "classical" Latin authors (before about the end of the 3rd century CE); it ignores, thus, the development of the Latin language through the Middle Ages. "Sph" is just not a classical Latin sound.
Cailtin Campbell then slipped up on collyrium, which I missed too. There is no reason she should have gotten it. It is from an obscure Greek word (kollurion, meaning an eye-salve or eye-wash) which no one, to my knowledge, knows. But maybe I am being to easy on myself, for there is even a product in the marketplace, put out by Bausch & Lomb, called "Collyrium for Fresh Eyes eye wash." Maybe this is something that any woman of fashion would know. But Caitlin and I didn't know it.
Nidharshan Anandasivam slipped up on paillon, and I don't think he should beat himself up for doing so. Even though this represents one of many (too many) French words used, it isn't a frequently-used word. It is a "decorative metallic scale or spangle; spec. a small piece of bright metal foil, used in enamel work." Not that great a word, really.
The 10th and Later Rounds
I will move more quickly now. Jonathan Horton missed the word sciolto. It is pretty difficult unless you know the Italian root, sciogliere, which stands behind it. Sciolto is the past participle of the sciogliere, which means "to untie, melt, release." Interestingly enough, the word isn't in the OED. Too bad for Jonathan.
Finola Hackett, the Canadian girl, spelled guilloche correctly (remember, she loves French). Theodore Yuan properly spelled kilim which, as I recall, was a Persian through Turkish word or something like that. I actually knew this word, also, but have never had occasion in a very verbal 54 years to use it.
Rajiv Tarigopula, the media's favorite, spelled yizkor properly. It is a memorial service held by Jews on certain holy days for deceased relatives or martyrs. It translates the Hebrew "May he [God] remember." I was very impressed that Rajiv got this correct since I erred on it, even though I know enough Hebrew so that I shouldn't have flubbed it. The word is derived from the very common Hebrew verb z-k-r. All you have to do is fill in the vowels.
Carrie Close spelled shedu correctly. This is a beast from Assyrian-Babylonian mythology. I suppose you need equal religious time. When she asked for the langauge of origin and the pronouncer said, with straight face, "Assyro-Babylonian," I am sure that all viewers rolled their eyes. You just have to know this word or sound it out. Michael Christie faltered on appenzell, which he should have known for no good reason. It is reminiscent of that most obscure word in the Collegiate, paulownia, which is named after some Russian noble or queen, and which no one knows except if you study the word itself. Saryn Hooks then spelled croquignole correctly. This word is in the Collegiate, so I better spell it out a dozen times until I can do it in my sleep.
Finishing the Bee
The words from Rounds 11 to the end were as follows. Finola was up first, which means she should get a French word. Well, what do you know, her word was douane. Theodore tripped up on syringadenous, relating to sweat glands (which were probably on overdrive while he was trying to spell it). Rajiv then slipped on heiligenschein, but Carrie got the relatively easy Hawaiian word hukilau correct. Saryn followed with another trivially easy German word austausch.
With only the three girls left, things went quickly. Finola got a Greek-derived word, dasyphyllous ("dasy" means "thick") and Carrie correctly spelled clinamen. Saryn tripped on ichteritious, a word I also misspelled (I tried to end it with a "ceous").
With two spellers left, we had each do a wonderful job for a few rounds. Finola got another French word, machicotage while Carrie picked up the Latin recrementitious. Recrementitious is derived from a classical Latin word, unlike sphacelated. They went on. Finola got another French word, esquisse, while Carrie got the Greek-derived word psittacism. Finola then got a Greek word, maieutic, relating to the mode of teaching pursued by Socrates. Carrie then got a French word (see any patterns here?) aubade. Finola got poiesis right, and Carrie spelled kanone correctly. A kanone, in case you didn't know (and I didn't) is an expert skier. The word was used in a Time article in 1942.
Finola then got another French word, tutoyer, and Carrie got the Arabic word izzat. Both then had Greek words, with Finola getting koine right and Carrie rightly dividing tmesis. Finally, Finola slipped on weltschmerz, while Carrie spelled kundalini correctly and then her "winning" word ursprache. There you have it.
If the bee inspires people to work at intellectual tasks rather than simply to make them marvel at the doings of kids, it will have achieved its purpose. Well, it has inspired me, and that isn't so bad...
Copyright © 2004-2009 William R. Long