Scripps National Spelling Bee VII
Bill Long 5/31/08
Three spellers remain, Tia, Sameer, and Sidharth. All are incredibly strong spellers.
Tia got "oxylophytic"--an acid soil. Tia heard it, went for it, and got it right. A difficult word, but if you know your Greek, you will be in the ballpark. The only problem is that this word doesn't seem to be attested very many places outside of the Webster's Third International.
"Sinicize" was Sameer's word. He spelled it out on the back of his card, thought deeply, and then thought some more. He seemed confused by the word, perhaps not ever having heard it. It has to do with making things "Chinese" or investing them with a Chinese character. But then he spelled it right! Good job.
Then we have Sidharth, a very confident and strong speller. "Aptyalism" was the word. If you know that ptyo is the Greek verb for "saliva" or "spitting," you can see how "aptyalism" means the absence of saliva. He looked at the judge, asked about the Greek root and then went on to spell it confidently and correctly.
Tia got a Latin word "opificer," a worker, a person who makes, constructs, or creates something. Tia looked down, not as confident, breathing deeply, mothers with hands to their mouths. Dr. Bailly pronounced it "epificer," which seemed to confuse her. The Latin root ("opus") wasn't coming to her, you could tell. She lowered her eyes, and asked again. It has been in English since the mid-16th century: "If you respect either Artificers or Opicifers, all Nations have been benefited thereby." She was so sad, spelling the first syllable with "e."
Sameer got "hyphaeresis," the elimination of a syllable from the middle of the word. "The word o'er in the middle of a word is an example of hyphaeresis." Nailed it easily. I have seen it spelled "hypheresis," but I guess the Third Internatinal dictionary is clear on that one
"Kulturkampf," a German word meaning "culture wars" (their were in the 1870s) was Sidharth's word. He pronounced it without the 'f' at the end, but got it correct, and then moved on to the next round.
Sameer got "taleggio," from an Italian geographic name. It is a variety of soft cheese made from cow's milk in Lombardy. From 1954, the first usage of it was: "Most of the good creamy cow's milk cheeses of Italy..come from Lombardy. Taleggio, robiole, taleggino, and robiolina."
Sidharth got the word introuvable, pronounced AHN tru vable. It means "impossible to find." But he found it perfectly.
"Esclandre" is a French word which means an incident that gives rise to scandal. The word first made it into English in 1832: "Threatening to make an esclandre and leave the chateau." Sameer got it right. We have German and French and Italian, and they got them all right. Good for them!
So, Sidharth was next. He got "prosopopoeia"--a rhetorical device where an absent person is represented as being present. Sometimes it is an address to a person who has died, as if s/he is present. It is derived from the Greek word for "face" and "making." He spelled it out on the back of his card first and then proceeded to spell. He left out the "i," however, and got it wrong. Too bad. He is a great speller.
"Guerdon" was the final word. It is a reward. It was a fine and easy word to end the competition and Sameer got it right. "William the Conqueror had to promise a generous guerdon for people who fought for him."
He was delighted, as was his family. This year's competition was, like most years, a grueling one, and the champion was declared about midway in the 25 "championship words."
If many people think that learning the words is admirable and good for kids, what must it be for us adults, who not only can learn them but have the life experience, the Google images and so many other things to be able to understand the worlds of these words. Sometimes we are brought into new worlds and can remain there for hours. That is something that most 13 year-olds cannot do, even though they point us the way to that wisdom.
Though I will be taking a "break" from words for a week, before I put my attention on the Senior Bee (which is now called the National Spelling Bee) the week after, I will have these words swimming into my mind. I couldn't be more grateful.
Copyright © 2004-2008 William R. Long