Oregon Senior Spelling Bee I (2008)
Bill Long 4/12/08
On My Fifth Try--A Victory!
As the Willamette Valley basked in its first 80-degree day of the season, and the motorcyclists sped in their unbridled delight around the Pythias Hall in downtown Aurora (population 614), about 20 spellers gathered within the Hall to engage in abecedarian and other logophilic activities. In other words, we got together to spell. At stake wasn't much--bragging rights among those 50 or over for the best speller in the state as well as a small sum of money to enable the winner to compete in the National Spelling Bee in Cheyenne in June. Yet the afternoon was a delight, aided by words well-chosen by the committee and well-spoken by pronuncer Carol Sawyer, even if the Francophilic nature of the words will be quite evident to any who look at the list below. A few years ago even our own US Senator Gordon Smith wanted to call French Fries "Freedom Fries." Now we senior spellers have gotten our revenge by having nearly every fifth word in our contest be derived from the French.
In these three essays I will list the words given in the written qualifying round (100 words) and in the several oral rounds that followed. We spelled in rounds of 25 words as follows:
First 25 Words
As is the custom at the Oregon bee, the first round consisted of words from each letter of the alphabet except "x." These words were more difficult than last year's list, and I missed two of them (fichu and zoea). Clew was the first word for which many had no clue. Its most common definition is a ball of thread, which in various mythological or legendary narratives (esp. that of Theseus) is mentioned as the means of thretding a way through a labyrinth or maze. Thus, by extension, it is that which guides through a maze or perplexity.
I tracked down an online version of the myth of Theseus, which told part of the story as follows:
"It was Ariadne who gave Theseus a clew which she had obtained from Daedalus. In some versions of the myth it was an ordinary clew, a simple ball of thread. It was to prove invaluable in his quest to survive the terrors of the Labyrinth."
Just as you now have no excuse ever to misspell clew again, I know I will never again misspell fichu after examining one or two photos of this triangular piece of fabric, worn by ladies as a covering for the neck and throat or as a shawl.
The definition for mufti confused me. It was "plain or civilian clothes worn by a person who normally wears a uniform." But I learned it as a religious leader in Islam, an expert in Islamic law, empowered to give rulings on religious matters. Or, to use another great word, it is someone authorized to deliver a fatwa. The OED lists these as two separate entries even though they are spelled the same. Phew. By the way, while reading the OED on this entry my eye went up to muffuletta, which is called by some the "best sandwich" in America and is a sandwich native to N'awlins. So, ignore that word, unless you simply love to learn more about the world.
The Francophilic nature of the bee is evident in jacquard, the surname of Joseph Marie Jacquard (1752-1834) of Lyons, who was a straw hat maker before becoming a French silk weaver and inventer. He is known for his invention of the Jacquard loom, a picture of which is here. One of the really difficult words for this 25 was unakite--an altered granite composed of pink orthoclase, feldspar, green epidote and generally clear quartz. Words named after geographical regions (the Unakas mountains are in NC) are especially difficult, but I happened to see this word written somewhere, and it came back to me.
Finally, zoea (zo EE ah) tripped me up, though it really shouldn't have. I spelled it zoia because I thought that when the Greek word came into English the "epsilon" would become an "i." Nope. It came in as an "e." The zoea is the free-swimming larval stage of crustaceans. It follows the nauplius stage and precedes the post-larva.
One of the things that has always worried me about this bee is that the committee which selects the words consists mostly of women in their 60s-70s. These ladies love flowers, food, and garments, and they all think that French is about the prettiest language you could ever imagine. Thus, in this round, we had deciduous, ensilage, jacquard, perianth, taffeta, veloute--all of which show their indebtedness to some of these interests. But I somehow came prepared this year--probably because I have been tested on this dictionary so often that I have no excuse for not having memorized it.
Now that some of the basics have been described, let's turn to the other 75 words of the written test.