HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns

June 4, 2007

What is so great about the spelling bee

By Jesse Menden

Spell the word, fascinating.

“What is the definition, please?”

Fascinating means extremely interesting or charming.

“What is the origin, please?”

Latin.

“May I hear the word in a sentence, please?”

Why are spelling bees so fascinating?

“Fascinating.

F-A-S...(long pause)...C-I-N-A-T-I-N-G.

Fascinating.”

That is a largely exaggerated, but rough example of what occurred during the first round of spelling at the 2007 Scripps National Spelling Bee last week.

Chris Stanbridge from Newfoundland, Canada, was the 39th contestant, Wednesday, and spelled the word “fascinating” correctly to move on to the third round of competition.

But that got me thinking, exactly what is so fascinating about a spelling bee that makes everybody watch? It is an event that ESPN has televised in its entirety since 1994, and ABC picked up the bee and put it in prime time this year.

On the surface, watching kids spell a word does not seem that interesting and entertaining enough to replace the trash already on television, much less putting it in front of the largest audience possible.

The draw can’t be to see a 9-year old crash and burn under the pressure while trying to spell a simple word like mom. I remember witnessing that at my middle school spelling bee. At the time, I wasn’t sure if I should try to spell the word myself or just laugh; I chose the latter.

Maybe we watch to see young geniuses and their weird mannerisms on live television. Whether it be their extreme squinting on the stage because they have never seen lights so bright (including the sun), or their reactions to a successful spelling, it can be quite comical.

Of course, the all-time moment came in 2004 when a Colorado boy fainted while trying to spell the word, alopecoid.

To just faint after hearing that word is an accomplishment. I struggle to spell my own name on most days.

Now, try to spell a word you probably have never heard of on a stage with millions of people watching. It makes for good television.

In case you were wondering, alopicoid, alopeciod, alopecoid means fox-like.

I am pretty sure the reason I flip on the tube to watch the spelling bee is because the kids are just flat-out geniuses. Okay, so I chuckled a few times while watching these kids in competition last week, but that is only a collateral benefit.

Even the words they correctly spelled in the second round impressed me.

Vacuum. Since when did Webster’s dictionary add that extra “u”?

Shindig. I didn’t know that was an actual word. I will never use the word party again.

Efficiency. What happened to “i” before “e” except after “c”?

Aluminum. It is hard say, much less spell.

As the kids battled through each round, I was continually impressed and could not look away.

Strange made-up sounding words got more exotic by the round. Words like rognon, randkluft, schuhplattler, helzel, and leggieramente were correctly spelled.

I should get a trophy for just copying those words right.

The last two contestants, Nate Gartke and Evan O’Dorney, dualed down the stretch and it was more dramatic than pistols at dawn.

It was a great moment when Gartke spelled “serrefine” correctly for the win. Of course I did get one final laugh when the champion needed some help holding his much-deserved trophy in the air.

I am done watching all of those crime dramas on television. From now on, give me some real drama and excitement, give me the spelling bee.