2007 National Spelling Bee IV
Bill Long 5/31/07
"Finishing" the Written Test
While waiting for the final rounds of the Bee to begin at 8:00 p.m., I decided I would write one more essay on the words in the written test in order to bring these words alive. This is one of the ways that knowledge should be gleaned and built, in my judgment. Here are some of the remaining words: succorance, takt, halobiont, retablo, tetrazzini, haricot, syssarcosis, vernier, quale, scytale and ylem. Well, I don't think I will write about tetrazzini (a pasta dish with a cream sauce and mushrooms, named after Italian operatic soprano Luisa Tetrazzini--1871-1940. Why would it be named after an opera singer?). If you haven't tasted chicken tetrazzini, I urge you to go to a restaurant and do so. You will never misspell tetrazzini again. Well, speaking of food, let's also dispose also of haricot. It is either a ragout, originally of mutton, or a "leguminous plant of the genus Phaseolus," which is popularly known as the kidney bean. It is interesting that the pronunciation is listed online as "HAR ee coh" while the "voice pronunciation" is "HAR ee cote." Can't win, can you?
The most unusual-looking word in the list is ylem (pronunced EYE-lum). It is derived from the Greek word hyle, which means "matter." Though the word is an ancient one, it only was "rediscovered" in 1948 in the context of the (new at the time) big bang theory. "Very shortly after the beginning of the universal expansion, the ylem was a gas of neutrons only." Thus, ylem is the primordial substance from which the universe was formed. Since all of this is so speculative and abstract, we need a word to capture that Wagnerian inchoate world, and I think ylem is perfect for that.
Another four-letter word could cause immense difficulties for spellers: takt. It is listed in the Unabridged as "tempo" but is absent from the OED and every other dictionary I consulted. This article on conducting introduces us to takt, as well as to some other words like cheironomy (an early form of conducting), the kapellmeister (music director), or rallentando (slowing down, especially near the end of a section). It says that the downbeat indicates the first beat of the bar, with the upbeat as the last beat. The instant at which the beat occurs is called the ictus, (Latin for "beat" or "strike") usually indicated by a flick of the wrist.
"The gesture leading to the ictus is called the 'preparation,' and the continuous flow of steady beats is called the 'takt.'"
Now we have put more "flesh" on the concept of takt, and so we are ready to move on. But....before we do, I need to say a word about the concept of takt time. Derived from the German Taktzeit, the word is "the maximum time allowed to produce a product in order to meet demand." Product flow is expected to fall within a pace that is less than or equal to the takt time.
A Brief Digression
I looked up takt in the Collegiate dictionary (the one for my competition) but didn't find it. My eye did fall, however, on a few neighborind words that I don't want to lose. I ran into takin, pronounced TAH keen, which means "a large heavily built bovid ruminant." I have never run into one, and this web site gives some pictures and tells me that they "hide in the fog-bound forests of China's central mountains..." Then, before I let my disappointment at the Collegiate's not having takt, I also noticed some other Collegiate words with which I don't think I was familiar. These include tala (a Samoan coin); taleggio (an Italian soft creamy cheese made from the whole milk of cows); tambala (this is a Malawi coin meaning "cockerel." 100 Tambala equals one Kwacha--a fact that I am sure you were interested in learning); and tallith (a shawl with fringed corners worn over the head or shoulders of Jewish men during prayer). The words seem nearly endless, but each of the words opens a new world, and thus we are enriched.
The one psychological term in the list is succorance. I thought at first that it was a word simply meaning "help," perhaps a synonym for "succor." But I was wrong. Here is the OED definition: "A term used in some forms of personality assessment to describe the need for help, sympathy and affection." In a word, it is "dependence" or "asking help from others." Well, aren't we all succorant in a way? Or, is this meant to suggest someone who is now "co-dependent?" I wonder if succorance "passed the baton" to "co-dependent" in the 1980s...that would be an interesting study.
We can dispose of halobiont quickly. It is derived from "salt" and "living," and is a body living in salt water. Thanks. Then, quale is not a very useful term. It means "the quality of a thing." It goes back to the 1670s, but never caught on even then. From 1670 we have "The Quale, or what sort of Bodies...Christ hath instituted, is to be afterward discussed." We can try to distinguish the quid from the quale and the quantum, but we have not made much progress when we have done so. Let's just let this dog sleep.
The rest of the words (syssarcosis, vernier, retablo and scytale) open interesting new worlds, but I don't have space here to explore them all. Let's just look at scytale, which rhymes with "Italy." It is a term from ancient cryptography (derived from the Greek skutale, meaning "baton"). Here is a nice article on it. Basically a message was written out on a long strip of leather or paper and wrapped around the baton. The letters that would now be "next" to each other (not next to each other in the order written on the leather but next to each other when wrapped around the baton) would give a "message." Someone thus could write a message fit for a baton of a certain circumference, and the recipient would need to have a baton of the same diameter, so that s/he could easily read the encrypted message. What an interesting and fascinating concept. However, I think that if the enemy intercepted such a message, they could quickly decipher it. Oh, well, it has fallen into disuse, except as a complex word in spelling bees.
This will have to suffice for now. Let's turn to the "blogged" rounds of the Bee.