Portland Spelling Bee Finals III
Bill Long 4/8/08
Round Six Through Eleven
Seven spellers were left at the beginning of this round, with only two remaining at the end. Only two of the following words were spelled correctly: lyonnaise, oppugn, macarize, nepenthe, vaccary, lacertilian, onomatope. In fact, if you know French, the first is easy; Latin, the second is easy; Greek, the third is easy, and so forth. Only nepenthe and vaccary were spelled correctly. If you know mayonnaise, you ought to be able to spell lyonnaise. It is simply something from Lyons, France. It also designates "either of two styles of book-binding associated with Lyons." The speller who got this word is a very good speller, but he has the habit of spelling too rapidly, without thinking through the sounds. Just think mayonnaise (a word, by the way, of uncertain origin) and you have lyonnaise.
These words weren't easy, and my friend Gil fell on macarize. The word is derived from the Greek word macarism or blessing. The Latin equivalent is beatitude. So, Jesus's beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount might also be referred to as his macarisms. I love words that have both a Greek and Latin derivation but mean substantially the same thing (as macarism and beatitude). By the way, the Yiddish word for blessing, which is in the Unabridged, is bensh. I just learned an alternative word for ventriloquist, indeed, the English word that appeared before ventriloquist to mean the same thing--speaking from the belly--and that is engastrimyth. The Greek word means, literally, "a word" and "in the belly."
My favorite word among these seven is nepenthe. There is also a word nepenthes in English that means pretty much the same thing. It is a drug mentioned in Homer's Odyssey (4.221; it qualifies the noun pharmakon in that passage), as liberating the mind from grief or trouble. By extension, then, a nepenthe/s is a drug that is supposed to bring forgetfulness or relief from pain or angish. From 1580: "Where is that herbe Nepenthes that procureth al delights?" The word has a very wide field of usage today--whenever someone wants to banish bad thoughts. Whereas Lethe was the mythological river whose waters supposedly enabled one to forget one's past, nepenthe/s was an actual drug which was touted to do the same. I wonder why no one is selling it today. Or, perhaps they are, at every corner tavern in America.
Amanda got crotalid and slipped; I got the relatively easier (or maybe I just know the field..) hawser, and got it right. The only thing the OED says about crotalid is that it is a "serpent of the Crotalidae or rattlesnake family." But we can go much further. I decided that it would be good to learn about rattlesnakes. The most painless way to do it is to go to the site of the Arizona Capitol Museum and realize that the Arizona Ridgenose Rattlesnake (Crotalus willardi) is the, yes the, Arizona state reptile. We learn that eleven different species of rattlesnake (one third of all know species of rattlers) live in AZ. Two genera of rattlers live: Crotalus and Sistrurus. The word crotalum is the Greek word for "rattle," and willardi refers to Frank C. Willard, the Tombstone, AZ man who first found it in the wild. Thus, not only should every participant know how to spell crotalid now, but s/he is far on the way to learning about snakes. Words open worlds, and this world opens us up even to the state reptile of AZ. If you are ever on Jeopardy! and "state reptiles" is a category, well, you almost surely have won some dough!
Rounds Eight Through Eleven
Both of us got hard words in Round Eight, though we both got them right. Croquembouche is a French word that means, literally, "that crunches in the mouth," and refers to a pyramid of small items of patisserie or confectionary coated in spun caramel and served on special occasions. The word came into English in 1874 but was then spelled croquenbouche. The first attestation of the "m" in place of the "n" was only in 1974. Here is a great picture of one, with Sam standing beside it. So, I suppose if you were in the bakery or dessert business, croquembouche would be as easy to spell as palooka for Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront (1954). My word, varicelliform, was not too difficult, as long as you realize that varicella is simply chicken pox. Something with a "form" for the last syllable is something "like" something else. I have no idea why the OED doesn't even have varicelliform, though it has varicellous, varicellar and varicelloid.
Rounds Nine Through Eleven
We both got our respective words right in round nine: miscellanea and obliquity. Though Katherine gave the definition of obliquity from geometry, I was more familiar with its moral connotation--perversity, aberration, fault, error. However, in plane geometry it is the quality of being "oblique" in direction, position or form. Oblique means "diverging from a straight line or course." Thus we can understand both the geometric and moral dimension.
Round 10 saw two very hard words: saponin and orfevrerie. Amanda began her word twice but ended up spelling it confidently. The definition of saponin is too long to give, but it has to do with glucosides and foaming and "soapy" kinds of things. The sapo root is a dead giveaway that it is spelled with one "p" and is from the Latin sapon. My word, orfevrerie, is one that I knew because I studied the kids' bee words for years. As you see in this essay, it was one of the final words in the 2005 bee. Thus, in a way, I "cheated." Or, to put it differently, I "studied." Well, in order to know your spelling words, you just can "wing it" if you want, but study is a good method to get more words that you might know.
Finally, in the eleventh round, she stumbled on Zugzwang and I spelled piloncillo correctly. I love the word Zugzwang--a German word derived from "Zug," meaning a "move" and "zwang," meaning "compulsion" or "obligation." It is from chess and is a position in which a player is obliged to move but cannot do so without disadvantage. The first usage in English was in Lasker's Chess Magazine from 1904: "White has struggled bravely and only loses by 'Zugzwang.'" Piloncillo is derived from the Spanish pilon, a "sugar loaf," more fully a pilon de azucar, so-called because of its conical shape. Thus, a piloncillo is a small sugar loaf, if etymology helps us. The OED actually defines it as "a type of coarse brown sugar, often molded into a hard cone or block, produced esp. in Mexico." From the NY Times in 1906: "In one hand she clutched a tortilla; in the other a piece of piloncillo."
There is your spelling bee. I hope you learn some of the words--and enter into the fantastic worlds that some of them open for you.