Last Saturday evening I had the privilege of being the Pronouncer and moderator of the local level of the Illinois State Senior Spelling Bee. In addition to having loads of fun–I was channeling Alex Trebek and Will Shortz like crazy–I learned that Evanstonians are great spellers. There were 17 participants, ages 50 and up, and all lasted many more rounds than we expected. There were many “sudden death” rounds before one of the two semi-finalists spelled two words in a row correctly after the other misspelled one. The event was sponsored by the EPL, Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center, and the Levy Center.
The first and second place winners, Mel Zellman and Bruce Hirsch respectively, will advance to the regional level competition in Park Ridge on June 3rd. Third place was taken by Jeff Balch. The final word was “scungilli,” an edible marine snail often prepared in a marinara sauce.
So where did all this competitive spelling come from? Why is it called a “bee?” I was delighted to hear this news feature on NPR’s “Sunday All Things Considered” which explained the origins and importance of spelling bees. Hint: the term “bee” has absolutely nothing to do with the flying insect.
Finally, this is indeed Bee Week. The young spellers are in Washington, D. C. competing in the early rounds of the Scripps National Spelling Bee. ESPN will televise the preliminary rounds this Wednesday; the semi-finals and finals on Thursday. The link to the Scripps site has the exact schedule.
It’s that time of the year again, comparable to March Madness, say, or Super Bowl Sunday, when many school children (8 to 15 years old), their parents, families, teachers and schoolmates become totally consumed with correct spelling. Yes, the 2011 Scripps National Spelling Bee starts on May 31st and runs through June 2nd. Once again, ESPN will televise the competition starting June 1st, and currently is promoting the upcoming events with participant interviews, videos of past contests, “sports” commentaries and more.
So how hard are the words? How would you have done on these final challenges from years past: gladiolus (1925), Chihuahua (1967), staphylococci (1987) and the winning word from 2010, stromuhr? Here’s the full list of winning words and winners.
Whether you’re an ace speller or one of those unfortunate, orthographically-challenged types (and given the oddities of English spelling, you are not alone), the study of words, their meanings and how to spell them is a fascinating diversion and a popular topic for many authors, based on the collection of books on spelling we have here at the library. I’ve always enjoyed books about words, and here is my list of picks for spelling bee prep.
If you’d like to really get into the spirit of the competition, I suggest watching the wonderful film “Spellbound.” It’s in a category I’ve dubbed “Films You Can Watch with Your Kids.” The movie follows eight young contestants in the 2001 competition as they move up the ranks of finalists, and shows how hard they work to stay in the game. You’ll be on the edge of your seat, rooting for them all, groaning and gasping as each word is spelled out.