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I feel sorry for the boy who got yenta
June 2, 2006 8:46 AM   Subscribe

Word. Eighth-grader Katharine Close has finally won the Scripps National Spelling Bee on her fifth attempt. She beat out 274 other competitors and won with the word ursprache, sounding it out live on national television. If spelling out rarely used historical-linguistic jargon seems tough, try weltschmerz on for size. That's the word runner-up Finola Mei Hwa Hackett stumbled on. While your at it, why not take a look at the entire word list and see how many you can get, or even just recognize. Prior escapades in spelling documented here, here [YouTube], and if you want to head out to theaters, here.
posted by dead_ (98 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
Also, I think Mefi's spellchecker is broken. It told that both ursprache and weltschmerz needed correcting. Let's get on this.
posted by dead_ at 8:48 AM on June 2, 2006


to the extent spelling competitions teach foreign languages I guess they're a good thing; otherwise, what a colossal waste of time & energy.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 8:50 AM on June 2, 2006


[spoiler] needed ;)
posted by tellurian at 8:52 AM on June 2, 2006


the "your"/"you're" thing is intentional.
posted by StrasbourgSecaucus at 8:54 AM on June 2, 2006


I am waiting out for the Arithmetic Bee or the Recite the Digits of Pi Bee myself.
posted by ozomatli at 8:54 AM on June 2, 2006


Watched this last night, funny how riveting it is compared to all the other crap on - and was totally routing for her since round 5 when they did the little snippet of her life. Apparently, she didn't study as hard as many of the other kids because she had 'other things' she's just as interested in doing. Little prodigy! What a finish!
posted by eatdonuts at 8:55 AM on June 2, 2006


Oops.
posted by dead_ at 8:56 AM on June 2, 2006


You don't need to recognise words in order to spell things, a rudimentary grounding in feeder languages would give you far greater scope for success than memorising innumerable esoterica.

or, while my DNS revives, what Heywood says
posted by NinjaTadpole at 8:56 AM on June 2, 2006


My wife and I actually watched this on TV last night. I was surprised to see the runner-up miss weltschmerz, since I remembered it from my college German class 20 years ago. Ursprache, on the other hand, had me a little befuddled.
posted by TedW at 8:57 AM on June 2, 2006


A grounding in the feeder languages helps immensely, yes, but English steals and then bastardizes so many words that simply learning other languges does not guarantee you success.
posted by Plutor at 9:00 AM on June 2, 2006


why not take a look at the entire word list and see how many you can get

Looking through the list, I was able to spell all of them.
posted by brain_drain at 9:00 AM on June 2, 2006


The most surprising thing about weltschmerz was how she misspelled it. German? Starting with a V?! Come on, she knew that word.
posted by Plutor at 9:01 AM on June 2, 2006


Strangely compelling as a spectator sport, this, judging by Spellbound.

Two questions:

Why are these spelling competitions called 'bees'? And why on earth did the reporter feel the need to tell us the following?
The competition paused for ABC to air commercials pitching credit cards, fast food, cell phones, digital cameras, clothing stores, breath fresheners, allergy medication, storm doors, kids movies, spray-on sunscreen, electric shavers for men and pastel-colored razors for women.
posted by jack_mo at 9:04 AM on June 2, 2006


Wow, the Wikipedia entry on bees is spectacularly unhelpful: recent theories say that the word “bee” more likely derived from other similar English words.
posted by jack_mo at 9:07 AM on June 2, 2006


From the official bee page:
The word bee, as used in spelling bee, is a language puzzle that has never been satisfactorily accounted for. A fairly old and widely-used word, it refers to a community social gathering at which friends and neighbors join together in a single activity (sewing, quilting, barn raising, etc.), usually to help one person or family. The earliest known example in print is a spinning bee, in 1769. Other early occurrences are husking bee (1816), apple bee (1827), and logging bee (1836). Spelling bee is apparently an American term. It first appeared in print in 1875, but it seems certain that the word was used orally for several years before that.
posted by pardonyou? at 9:08 AM on June 2, 2006


A spelling B. C?
posted by Mr. Six at 9:09 AM on June 2, 2006


All 200+ pages brain_drain? That's some fast reading.
posted by dead_ at 9:10 AM on June 2, 2006


jack_mo, when I read the linked story this morning, I kept wondering why so much time was spent harping on the commercials. I would assume everyone involved would be over the moon that the bee was on prime time national TV (which, almost necessarily, means commercials). I mean, how refreshing to have an intellectually-oriented competition on prime time!
posted by pardonyou? at 9:11 AM on June 2, 2006


dead_, I think brain_drain was making a funny -- i.e., by looking at the list (which necessarily reveals the proper spelling), he can spell all of them. (I was confused at first, too).
posted by pardonyou? at 9:13 AM on June 2, 2006


I mean, how refreshing to have an intellectually-oriented competition on prime time!

Is a spelling bee really an exercise of intellectual prowess? I don't doubt the memory skills of its competitors, but I don't automatically ascribe them above-average intelligence for remembering how to spell one or another word.
posted by Mr. Six at 9:14 AM on June 2, 2006


I mean, how refreshing to have an intellectually-oriented competition on prime time!

Is a spelling bee really an exercise of intellectual prowess? I don't doubt the memory skills of its competitors, but I don't automatically ascribe them above-average intelligence for remembering how to spell one or another word.
posted by Mr. Six at 9:14 AM on June 2, 2006


Now that the Bee has attained a certain level of kitsch-popularity (through the compelling film Spellbound) I'm finally aware of the amount of extremely negative commentary that apparently surrounds it; when I was in it - in 1992 and '93 - I thought it was just a totally awesome week away from school, doing something challenging and unique.

It's a 'colossal waste of time and energy' for the people who devote themselves to it as an end in itself - in Spellbound you see a couple of families like that, particularly the evidently-unhappy Indian family (in which the father apparently has no idea what he's doing to his son). But that film also featured the quiet working-class schlub who took the Bee not seriously at all; there are a lot of kids in the competition like that, or at least there were when I went. It's not stupid for eighth graders to focus on some esoteric geeky activity; frankly, if the choice comes down to learning lists of words and their definitions (yes, most participants really do pick up a hell of a lot of usable vocabulary from the Bee) or staying at home playing Halo, I won't be offended if my future kid chooses the former.

(I'll still buy him/her Halo, mind you. It's a classic.)

It's fashionable to piss on the Bee and the kids who do it, but the Bee is like a dance competition for four-year-olds: it's neat for kids to be (feel) good at something, and it's the application of a mostly-useless skill-framework to unearth talent, which can be good and helpful. There's no art in either case, but if you're looking for quirky kids with capacious memories and often-stunning verbal facility there are worse places than the stage at the Bee. I did well because I read constantly as a kid and had a knack for incidental aural detail; again, I definitely wasn't alone in that regard.

My Mom and I prepared for weeks and weeks, as she quizzed me on long ridiculous word lists and we joked and bickered for hours on end. In retrospect that might have been one of the closest experiences I ever had with my Mom - a fact of which I was only reminded by this thread, so thanks for that.

And in any case for many of the kids the competition was secondary: participants in the mid-90's got a week off from school to stay all-expenses-paid at the Capitol Hilton eating expensive food and sightseeing and meeting other smart kids from around the country. For me it was the first experience I'd ever had with kids of similarly geeky disposition who weren't my younger brother. I've come to see some of the Bee's trappings as cruel or beside the ostensible developmental point, but for me the hidden message of the Bee was this: there are other people who are as dorky as you, who like words as much as you do, who get acne and hang out with their parents and dress like clowns and dance with an almost apocalyptic lameness. And for a week you get to hang out with them and show off your brain. Which - for some of these kids - is the only thing that's ever won them any praise.

I find the competition unwatchable now - I hate to see children so nervous and upset - but a part of me is glad of its continued existence. There are plenty of worse things in kids' lives these days.
posted by waxbanks at 9:19 AM on June 2, 2006 [4 favorites]


Yeah, she was having trouble with weltschmerz, but a V? She's probably still kicking herself for that.
posted by graventy at 9:19 AM on June 2, 2006


I was surprised to see the runner-up miss weltschmerz, since I remembered it from my college German class...

These kids were, like, 13 years old. Added to which, I'd probably misspell "bookkeeper" if you put me on national television, live.

what a colossal waste of time & energy.

What a short-sighted observation. Aside from building their vocabularies, which you can't put a price on, these kids are learning to solve problems. It may be an etymological context, but they're learning detective skills. "Can you give me the definition?" "What's the origin?" They're not stalling for time. They use those clues to piece together the spelling.

You want a colossal waste of time, look toward the Scrabble competitions. Those kids will brag about how definitions don't matter, about how they make a point not to learn anything except how to spell words that, in many cases, aren't words.
posted by cribcage at 9:20 AM on June 2, 2006


Her fifth attempt? Back in my day, we only got three tries. Mutter mutter grumble.
posted by booksandlibretti at 9:21 AM on June 2, 2006


I tried while watching the final 6 or so kids to spell out some of those words. My wife just giggled at my attempt. So I'm going to say "good on them" for achieving a level of success and learning what it takes to succeed.

EDUKASHUN ROKS!!!
posted by pezdacanuck at 9:28 AM on June 2, 2006


I look forward to the corporate sponsors affecting the competition:

The word is "Prilosec."

Could I have the language of origin?
Our sponsor's marketing team made it up.

Could you use the word in a sentence?
For 24-hour heartburn relief, talk to your doctor about Prilosec.
posted by horsewithnoname at 9:32 AM on June 2, 2006 [1 favorite]


Watched this last night, funny how riveting it is compared to all the other crap on - and was totally routing for her since round 5

This thread has to be one where I can safely point out that it's rooting, right?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 9:34 AM on June 2, 2006


These competitions are the extreme opposite end of the spectrum to mind-numbing brainless trash. That doesn't always make it a good thing though.
posted by Acey at 9:43 AM on June 2, 2006


Did any catch the story about the 3rd place girl that was "re-instated"? By the time I started watching, I kept hearing references to it but never got the fuill story.
posted by If I Had An Anus at 9:47 AM on June 2, 2006


Me: I mean, how refreshing to have an intellectually-oriented competition on prime time!

Mr. Six: Is a spelling bee really an exercise of intellectual prowess?

Probably not. But I didn't say intellectual prowess -- I said intellectually-oriented. As opposed to physically-oriented.
posted by pardonyou? at 9:50 AM on June 2, 2006


waxbanks: nice post, thanks.

Am I the only one who wonders if you could just find the right idiot savant, could you could rule the world of bees?
posted by Rumple at 9:54 AM on June 2, 2006 [1 favorite]


I think American spelling bees would be more interesting if all the words were English.
posted by Nelson at 9:54 AM on June 2, 2006


Her fifth attempt? Back in my day, we only got three tries. Mutter mutter grumble.

That's not true. Unless you're quite a bit older than me (National Spelling Bee 1986), Scripps-Howard's rules had no minimum age limit. You could enter the bee as often as you wanted as long as you were under 16 and hadn't gone past 8th grade. Needless to say, most people who are 16 years old and still in 8th grade probably aren't making it to the National Spelling Bee. If the current champion has been in the bee five times, that means she has qualified since she was in 4th grade. When I was in the bee in 1986, the youngest person in the bee was a 9-year-old 4th grader, so it's not outside the realm of possibility.
posted by jonp72 at 9:58 AM on June 2, 2006


I look forward to the corporate sponsors affecting the competition:

The word is "Prilosec."


Believe it or not, but when I won the National Spelling Bee in 1986, one of the words I had to spell was "ibuprofen."
posted by jonp72 at 10:00 AM on June 2, 2006 [2 favorites]


Believe it or not, but when I won the National Spelling Bee in 1986, one of the words I had to spell was "ibuprofen."
posted by jonp72 at 10:00 AM PST on June 2 [+fave] [!]


For real? All hail the new mefi spellchecker.

P.S., by the way, dude, its "beleive"
posted by Rumple at 10:02 AM on June 2, 2006


Spelling Bees: Another great sport just waiting to be spoiled by steroid abuse... Or genetically enhanced atomic monsters with cranial lexograpic-processor-wetware wired into their skulls.
posted by blue_beetle at 10:02 AM on June 2, 2006


Very cool, jonp72! I hear ibuprofen is effective against odontalgia!
posted by horsewithnoname at 10:06 AM on June 2, 2006


I was pretty surprised when Finola started spelling weltschmerz with a 'V' (which was her only mistake) and knowing that it is German in origin. I figured the 'W' was the obvious guess, if you didn't know for sure. But what do I know?
posted by Witty at 10:19 AM on June 2, 2006


...or what graventy said.
posted by Witty at 10:20 AM on June 2, 2006


Jonp72, our local qualifying bee had a minimum grade limit (and homeschoolers' equivalent, I guess). I'm not sure why it was put in place, but only sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders could compete in the regional bee.
posted by booksandlibretti at 10:21 AM on June 2, 2006


jonp72 has told his story here before. It's absurdly cool.

It merits mention, I think, that there's a Broadway show that's still going strong. (They've just signed on to sponsor my trivia night, so I'm assuming they're not expecting to close anytime soon.)
posted by chicobangs at 10:26 AM on June 2, 2006


I just tried and failed the impulse to post
"metafilter: a colossal waste of time & energy."

I hate those in-jokes. Now I feel dirty.

(on topic - I've always been rather good at spelling, but my less-exeptional typing generally ruins that. *sigh*)
posted by Karmakaze at 10:27 AM on June 2, 2006


I think American spelling bees would be more interesting if all the words were English.

I think the N-A-T-I-O-N-A-L spelling bee would be more interesting if only US residents were allowed to participate.
posted by cribcage at 10:30 AM on June 2, 2006


jonp72 has told his story here before. It's absurdly cool.

This knowledge is useless without a link.
posted by kenko at 10:35 AM on June 2, 2006


The Bee Blog has the scoop on Saryn Hooks' reentry.

Basically, she was given the word "hechsher," which the judges had as "hechscher," but which can be spelled either way, since it's a Hebrew transliteration.

Why, look -- Wikipedia already has it on their entry for "hechsher".

I agree -- Finola must be kicking herself about that "v"!
posted by mothershock at 10:37 AM on June 2, 2006


waxbanks: In some respects, my spelling bee experiences dovetail with yours. I remember going over my word lists with my parents too, but generally I got very exasperated with them, because they were constantly botching the pronunciation of them. If anything, my parents were most similar to April DeGideo's parents in the movie Spellbound, but more middle-class and my Mom did not have that ditzy Edith Bunker quality that April's Mom did.

In addition, you are totally right, waxbanks, about how the spelling bee becomes a sort of mini-convention for junior high school nerds. When I was a staffer at the National Spelling Bee in 1991, they even had the equivalent of a high school dance where all the little spellers started pairing off with each other. It was quite adorable.
posted by jonp72 at 10:37 AM on June 2, 2006


Rumple, wtf are you talking about? Unless you're deliberately being obtuse, you misspelled both It's (as in It is) and believe.
posted by emelenjr at 10:39 AM on June 2, 2006


By "more interesting" I presume you mean "satisfactory to my nationalistic prejudices." I have no idea how the exclusion of Weltschmerz or a Canadian girl could make it more interesting.

Did any catch the story about the 3rd place girl that was "re-instated"? By the time I started watching, I kept hearing references to it but never got the fuill story.

Same here. Even the Times story doesn't explain.
posted by languagehat at 10:39 AM on June 2, 2006


Rumple, wtf are you talking about?

emelenjr, have you looked behind the couch for your sense of humor?
posted by languagehat at 10:40 AM on June 2, 2006


P.S., by the way, dude, its "beleive"

.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:44 AM on June 2, 2006


Anything that promotes skills other than hand-eye coordination is a welcome addition to the life of our youth today.
Reminiscence: in my day (cough, wheeze) the Bee was sponsored by the World Telegram and then the NY Daily News. In my local district elimination round, the kid before me got knocked out by a word that sounded like "Jenner." I realized the reader had mispronounced "genre" and won the bee. Got knocked out in a later event by "diaphanous," though.
posted by QuietDesperation at 10:44 AM on June 2, 2006


By "more interesting" I presume you mean "satisfactory to my nationalistic prejudices." I have no idea how the exclusion of Weltschmerz or a Canadian girl could make it more interesting.

I second that, languagehat. As a contestant, the bee is a lot more interesting with more words derived from foreign languages. One of my words toward the end of the 1986 bee was "aioli," an Italian-derived word that is now more famous as the yuppie sandwich spread of choice. I just liked the word, because it's one of the few 5-letter words that is 80% vowels.
posted by jonp72 at 10:44 AM on June 2, 2006


Karen and I were rooting for young Finola. She was just so ... twinkly ... We love spelling Bees and watch them on cable when we can. Competition is competition.
posted by mmahaffie at 10:47 AM on June 2, 2006


Did anyone notice after the Canadian sat down during the latter rounds (when there were only a few left) the announcer said something along the lines of, "that Tokyo star." She's half-Chinese which was odd, but the fact she was Canadian made it even more weird. Kind of like calling one of the white kids a "Belgian brain." I thought I misheard until someone in the room said "Did he just make a joke about her race?" and everyone concurred that they heard the "Tokyo star" comment. I noticed the very next round he made a big deal about her Canadian heritage so I think he must have realized the mistake. Still weird.
posted by geoff. at 10:48 AM on June 2, 2006


To clarify my post above, Saryn Hooks was given the word "hechsher." Which she spelled, correctly, as "hechsher." But the judges had it on their print-out as "hechscher." So they dinged her, but then another contestant, who had been out in an earlier round, looked it up using his laptop (which was loaded up with all the new words from the official bee dictionary) and realized that it should actually be spelled as "hechsher," the way she had spelled it. So he and his parents took it to the judges, they agreed that she had spelled it right and that their print-out of the word was wrong, and she was reinstated.
posted by mothershock at 10:51 AM on June 2, 2006


Yeah -- he also called her "the pride of Tokyo."

???
posted by mothershock at 10:52 AM on June 2, 2006


By "more interesting" I presume you mean "satisfactory to my nationalistic prejudices." I have no idea how the exclusion of Weltschmerz or a Canadian girl could make it more interesting.

I shouldn't have to explain to a guy who calls himself "languagehat," who writes a blog about the usage and origins of words, in a thread about a spelling bee, why the Canadian girl didn't belong in the National Spelling Bee.

(But you're right. I'm prejudiced.)

And I said nothing about foreign words (which the melting pot of American English includes plenty of). So you can take your straw man down the yellow brick road.
posted by cribcage at 10:53 AM on June 2, 2006


mothershock, thanks for the clarification. We were wondering about that too. Great example of sportskidship.
posted by mmahaffie at 10:57 AM on June 2, 2006


pardonyou? said 'The word bee, as used in spelling bee, is a language puzzle that has never been satisfactorily accounted for.'

I know what it means, and how long it's been used, it was the language puzzle I was puzzled about - if it's not a reference to the busy ways of popular community-loving insect the bee, I'm curious as to where the term comes from, and Wikipedia only whiffles about 'similar English words'...
posted by jack_mo at 10:58 AM on June 2, 2006


I watched, and felt that on many of the foreign words the pronouncer failed to correctly pronounce or offer alternative pronouncements. There was one word of Italian origin Gioioso that was pronounced josho. Naturally the contestant missed. He also butchered a couple of words with greek or Arabic ae sounds, Mithraeum was one, which he pronounced mithrEum and of course the contestant missed there too. In fact the Hechser the contestant had to ask Escher or Hescher over emphasizing the H sound.
posted by Gungho at 11:02 AM on June 2, 2006


waxbanks - thanks for that.

I was at the spelling bee last year and felt sort of bad for the kids - it seemed to be a lot of waiting around for one moment of terror in front of the lights - but you put it in a different light for me.
posted by CunningLinguist at 11:03 AM on June 2, 2006


I entertained the idea that Rumple's misspellings were deliberate, but I wasn't sure.

*checks behind couch, realizes Languagehat is right as usual*
posted by emelenjr at 11:03 AM on June 2, 2006


cribcage, let me quote your entire previous comment:

"I think American spelling bees would be more interesting if all the words were English."
I think the N-A-T-I-O-N-A-L spelling bee would be more interesting if only US residents were allowed to participate.


(I've added quote marks to the comment you were responding to, which of course you italicized.) See how both your remark and the one you quoted use "more interesting"? Sure you do. Well, I was responding to both of you (in other words, my "you" was plural): I don't see how it would be more interesting if either 1) all the words were English, or 2) only US residents were allowed to participate. Is that clear now? Sure it is. Try not to be so touchy next time.

Also, it's not clear to me why the "Scripps National Spelling Bee" should exclude non-Americans, since it's just a name, like "World Series." But maybe they should exclude everyone who doesn't work for Scripps.
posted by languagehat at 11:12 AM on June 2, 2006


This may seem trite, but I got a kick just out of seeing Miss Close's face as they gave her her trophy. That huge, astonished grin made me smile. Good for her!
posted by annieb at 11:19 AM on June 2, 2006


Well, I was responding to both of you...

You're right. My mistake.

Also, it's not clear to me why the "Scripps National Spelling Bee" should exclude non-Americans, since it's just a name, like "World Series."

I don't understand the logic behind, "It's just a name"; and I don't agree with the logic that because one thing is stupid, it's OK for a second thing to be stupid. It seems to me that, if you're going to teach kids about language and words and definitions, it might be constructive to show them, at least within the realm of that exercise, that definitions matter. This seems an inappropriate context to say, "Oh, it's just a word."
posted by cribcage at 11:21 AM on June 2, 2006


I suppose I might as well provide you with an annotated set of links to my posts related to spelling bees. This is the post where I come out of the closet as a spelling bee kid. I also discuss meeting Ronald Reagan and why the word phacometer will never appear in the National Spelling Bee. Here's another old post with links about the kids who appeared in the documentary Spellbound.

My longest post on the Spelling Bee gives my take on the controversy about whether Rebecca Sealfon won the National Spelling Bee after spelling "euonym" incorrectly. (Short answer: Probably not, but her competitor had already misspelled a world by the time she stepped up to the mike.) I later followed up that post with a short discussion of why the National Spelling Bee might have lip readers on staff.
posted by jonp72 at 11:29 AM on June 2, 2006 [5 favorites]


geoff.: Did anyone notice after the Canadian sat down during the latter rounds (when there were only a few left) the announcer said something along the lines of, "that Tokyo star."

I'm betting it was Tofield, not Tokyo that you heard (Finola hails from that town just southeast of Edmonton).
posted by hangashore at 11:33 AM on June 2, 2006


I thought the spelling bee (and geography bee) were America's annual reminders to refresh the discussion about how dumb public-schoolchildren are compared to home-schoolchildren. You know, kind of like how every February America must discuss the logistics of transferring $100 megasuperbillion to black people for slavery reparations.
posted by wabashbdw at 11:33 AM on June 2, 2006


Bless your heart, jonp72, I was hoping you'd do just that. Thank you!
posted by melissa may at 11:34 AM on June 2, 2006


Wow, the second part of my post might sound a lot worse than I intended. I just meant that I'm surprised no one has cracked open the old chestnut about home- vs. public-schooling yet. Any info about the top-5 finishers in this regard?
posted by wabashbdw at 11:35 AM on June 2, 2006


I shouldn't have to explain to a guy who calls himself "languagehat," who writes a blog about the usage and origins of words, in a thread about a spelling bee, why the Canadian girl didn't belong in the National Spelling Bee.

I hate to break this to you, but the National Spelling Bee has already had a non-American champion when the Jamaican girl, Jody-Anne Maxwell, won the bee in 1998. She was the first contestant from outside the United States to do so. However, when I was in the National Spelling Bee in 1986, I remember at least one contestant from Guam, so the participation of non-Americans in the bee is a phenomenon at least 20 years old.
posted by jonp72 at 11:38 AM on June 2, 2006


I, too, was surprised about Weltschmerz with a 'V'... it was one of the few late-round words that I was able to spell. "Did she really say that?" I asked my wife, and Tivo confirmed it.

The NYT article defined Weltschmerz as "a type of mental depression", which I think, deliberately or not, defangs a pleasingly topical and timely word. A better definition is "sadness over the evils of the world."

Watching closed-caption was amusing... many oblique references to "[THE WORD]" and so on.

In a 7th/8th grade contest, I finished second to an 8th grader (and no dishonor in that; he was a smart guy and a good friend). I figured next year my prospects were looking pretty good. Then I found out the contest was held every two years. Pheh. (The word was "magnanimous", and I stumbled over the second 'n')

("pwned... P-W-N-E-D... pwned")
posted by kurumi at 11:47 AM on June 2, 2006


jonp72 wins metafilter for the month of June. Very cool.

Anyways, here's an SNL skit on spelling bees that I thought was funny. Or maybe I'm just staggeringly puerile and banal in my tastes.
posted by bardic at 11:49 AM on June 2, 2006


Kudos to ABC for broadcasting this live, but the number of commercial interruptions was absurd. At the end they were cutting away every three or four words.

I suspect that ABC's thinking in doing this has more to do with the popularity of "reality" shows than with "Putnam County" and "Spellbound."

For a number of years I ran a county spelling bee that sent its champion to the National, and I can tell you the tension can be cut with a knife, among both spellers and spectators.

On the reinstatement question, discussed above, The San Diego Union Tribune tells the "hechsher" story. However, ABC's own site says this:
Hooks, 14, was the center of the most dramatic moment in Thursday night's competition. After being eliminated while spelling "icteritious," an adjective describing a jaundiced color, she was reinstated after the judges realized that they had made a mistake and that she had spelled the word correctly.

ABC is wrong about its own show here. "Icteritious" is the word Hooks finally got eliminated on. "Hechsher" is the one that led to reinstatement. She spelled it right, but the judges banged on the bell and spelled it "hechscher".
posted by beagle at 11:49 AM on June 2, 2006


cribcage, the Scripps National Spelling Bee is in name only and is a not for profit organization that promotes itself through sponsors across many nations. Just because it has the word "National" in it, does not mean it is only for Americans. And even it were, Canadians would still be part as Canada belongs to North America.

But really, is it not more important to revel in the fact that these kids are accomplishing something and not just sitting back and hacking away on a gamepad, joystick or computer?
posted by pezdacanuck at 12:00 PM on June 2, 2006


I just meant that I'm surprised no one has cracked open the old chestnut about home- vs. public-schooling yet. Any info about the top-5 finishers in this regard?

The disproportionate involvement of home schoolers in the National Spelling Bee is a relatively recent phenomenon. The first home schooler to ever win the National Spelling Bee was Rebecca Sealfon in 1997. I don't know about Sealfon's family, but it appears that Sealfon was home-schooled more in the style of 1970s hippies weaned on the theories of John Holt and Ivan Illich than because of a fundamentalist Christian ethos. In fact, this article says that Sealfon was a member of a vegetarian co-op at Princeton University. In other words, Sealfon is hardly an ideal poster girl for those who want to blame hippie secularists for the downfall of the American educational system. In fact, Sealfon herself said that her parents did not homeschool for religious reasons.

By the way, this year's spelling bee winner attends a public school in New Jersey. Conservatives who use spelling bee results to attack the public school system can be a wee bit selective in the use of their data.
posted by jonp72 at 12:06 PM on June 2, 2006


I finished second among the boys in my eighth grade class spelling bee (boys and girls were segregated in middle school), but only after three one-on-one written spell-offs between me and my friend Jon, who finally beat me with assassin. Two asses—I've never forgotten that. Jon went on to lose to the eighth grader who won for the girls, on some word that I can't recall now, but I remember knowing how to spell then. Melissa's championship word, which was just the luck of the draw, was kangaroo. Injustice!
posted by emelenjr at 12:19 PM on June 2, 2006


I won my school spelling bee in eighth grade but came in second in the district spelling bee. Let's just say I'll never forget how to spell elucidate.
posted by SisterHavana at 12:32 PM on June 2, 2006


I won a spelling bee in the sixth grade with autochthonous, and every time they use it (like they did again this year) I always get a little thrill.
posted by chicobangs at 1:05 PM on June 2, 2006


Hehe. Autochthonous is one of my favorite words. Then again, I've probably read too much Lovecraft.
posted by bardic at 1:12 PM on June 2, 2006


How do you spell "xenophobia"?
posted by languagehat at 1:15 PM on June 2, 2006


When I was in eighth grade (quite a while ago) I made it to the state finals of this competition, was about #6 in the state competition.

I can assure you that levels of preparation vary widely. I did no specific studying for the spelling bee, the only time it cost me was the time for the competitions themselves (which were a lot of fun).

Others, of course, spent a lot of time on it. At the time, I found it very amusing when I beat them (now, I'd have a little less schadenfreude).

Memory is important, but it's not about memorization in that concentrated way that people imply. For me, it was about a lifetime of avid reading, which gave me a huge base of words. On top of that, I had a good grounding in grammar and a light dose of French or German (the German would really help with "weltschmerz", for example).

All of that from public school. The guy who did win state against me was in a similar state, no real specific prep work for the event (no idea who won national that year as I was a little disheartened).

I think, like many things in education, this has to do with having a good grounding at a young age, but that doesn't imply some sort of overengineered education scenario. I'm not quite as good of a speller today as I was then, because my memory is weaker and I spend less time reading for pleasure due to work.

But the number one key to spelling is logic and phonetics, along with knowing about language roots and the properties of those languages (Latin, French, German, etc for English). The vast majority of words I could spell without having seen or heard them before (an ability I tested while listening to this year's bee). Unless you really are an overtrained child, a good percentage of the words in the national bee are not familiar to you. But you do NOT have to have seen or heard a word before to spell it. Anyone who knows German could have spelled "Weltschmerz" with little difficulty.
posted by wildcrdj at 1:33 PM on June 2, 2006


Um, pezdacanuck, North America is not a nation. Just sayin'.
posted by team lowkey at 2:58 PM on June 2, 2006


Those aren't so hard if you know a little basic german.
posted by spazzm at 3:11 PM on June 2, 2006


I watched a Canadian bee on tv, and was surprised to see that if someone missed a word, the next contestant was given the *same* word. This seemed very unfair - when I watched, 7 people in a row mis-spelled "trestle" and it really got down to process of elimination.

Rules seemed unfair - I thought every one should get a fresh word.

Is the American bee system the same?

If so, who should I complain to? :-)
posted by parki at 3:27 PM on June 2, 2006


Another national speller here. Reagan gave us this speech in 1983. That morning my parents and I were looking at Robert F. Kennedy's grave at Arlington (we hadn't been planning to go to Arlington cemetery, it was a cab driver's "mistake") when a limo pulled up, we were shepherded off to one side by a policeman, and RFK's family came out and knelt in front of his grave. We didn't realize it then, but it was the 25th anniversary of his death.
posted by gubo at 4:29 PM on June 2, 2006


Yikes! 15th anniversary. Didn't say I was good at math.
posted by gubo at 4:36 PM on June 2, 2006


I won my school and county bees when I was 6. My parents didn't know about it until my teacher called them to arrange a time for her to drive me to the state bee. I wasn't nervous about it -- someone would ask me to spell a word and I would do it. It was a game. We all spelled words for a while and then they declared one of us a winner.

I lost in the first round in the national bee on "guaranty". (Listen to enough Texans say "guarantee" and you get confused.) Since I hadn't missed a word in any bee up to then, I didn't understand that I was eliminated and I wouldn't leave the stage because I was having too much fun. I didn't compete after that since I thought it was unfair to lose after missing one word. It seemed to me that everyone would miss sooner or later if they were given enough words, so what was the point? I was one weird little kid.

Anyway, good on you, jonp72. If you had half the fun I did and won it all to boot, you had the best of both worlds.
posted by forrest at 5:52 PM on June 2, 2006


Two National Spelling Champs? What're the odds of that?
posted by graventy at 7:14 PM on June 2, 2006


i still wondering why they used all those strange and foreign language words? what happened to good old english? did they run out of english words to spell?
posted by brandz at 10:06 PM on June 2, 2006


When I was a kid, my family had a habit of pronouncing certain words the way they were spelled (due, I think, to my dad's odd sense of humor).

My sister, kind of an indifferent student, was once failed on a spelling test thanks to that quirk. Explaining to the teacher that everybody in the family called the little beasts "chee-hooah-hooahs" didn't cut it — she got an F for cheating on the word chihuahua.

Lachrymation ensued.
posted by rob511 at 11:26 PM on June 2, 2006


i still wondering why they used all those strange and foreign language words?

I hoping you're using funning words to make a joking joke, but if not, see my link on xenophobia. ("So how come our spelling bee has been taken over by foreignisms? The obvious answer is that these are the hardest words for most Anglophones to spell.")

My sister, kind of an indifferent student, was once failed on a spelling test thanks to that quirk. Explaining to the teacher that everybody in the family called the little beasts "chee-hooah-hooahs" didn't cut it — she got an F for cheating on the word chihuahua.

Could you explain that? I'm having trouble understanding 1) how she could fail by misspelling one word, and 2) how it's cheating to misspell and/or mispronounce chihuahua.
posted by languagehat at 6:06 AM on June 3, 2006


misspell and/or mispronounce chihuahua

at least it wasn't B-E-A-G-E-L
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:24 PM on June 3, 2006


Dept. of Clarification: My sister used the family's mispronunciation to figure out how to correctly spell the word. Based on previous quiz marks, the teacher queried her correct answer. She didn't believe her explanation, and concluded that she had copied the answer. So (presumed) cheating on one answer, and then denying the misdeed, was enough to fail her for the entire test.
posted by rob511 at 5:29 PM on June 3, 2006


Thanks for clarifying. The teacher sounds like a jerk. (Why would she only copy one answer, anyway? "Gosh, I'd like to move up from a D to a C minus, but nothing higher!")
posted by languagehat at 6:05 AM on June 4, 2006


I just had to post this little nugget in this thread. My husband was in the Bee in 1986 as well (although he didn't go very far)and also went to Bishop Grimes in Syracuse like this year's contestant Michael Christie.

jonp72, I have a scan of a newspaper clipping from Syracuse that mentions you (briefly) if you're interested!
posted by stefnet at 8:53 PM on June 4, 2006


Bah, spelling bees are unfair. Make all the kids spell the same list of words, or else it's luck of the draw as to whether you happen to get an easy (to you) word or not. They should do it with soundproof booths, and words ranked in order of difficulty based on how many kids have gotten them wrong (out of a large standardized group that has been tested).

And I guess I'm weird but I don't think obscure foreign words should be relied upon so much in these things. Foreign words that are well-used in the English lexicon, sure, but digging out weird obscure shit? Forget that.
posted by beth at 6:03 AM on June 5, 2006


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