Earlier this week, a few of us from the Independent newsroom - myself, Karin Elton, Deb Gau and Jenny Kirk - decided to enter the annual Marshall-Lyon County Library spelling bee fundraiser. We figured it would be "good PR" for the paper to participate and we wanted to see how we would fare in the competition where all you had to do was know how to spell.
As journalists, we work with many different kinds of words and have come across some unusual ones (just depends on the story we're doing). I never participated in a spelling bee as a kid. Both my elementary school, St. Anne's, and then middle school, Somerset, didn't have one. At least one that I can remember. So I really didn't know what to expect coming into the library's spelling bee on Monday night.
I had visions of going up to a podium and having to know the spellings for such words as "xanthophyll"?and "meringue." Fortunately, it was a team spelling bee. Whew, we can collaborate on how to spell words. I was worried that I'd be up there tapping my leg like Akeelah in the movie "Akeelah and the Bee"?as I tried to spell a 17-letter word of some unknown origin.
Monday's event had 15 teams pitted against each other, from retired and current teachers to library workers to realtors. There was even a high school team - four students from?the Marshall High School National Honor Society. The parking lot was full when I got there around 6:15 p.m. I was still a little nervous, but I?just hoped our team wouldn't be the first one eliminated (how embarrassing!)
Here were some of the rules:
Each team spells once in each round until eliminated. There will be no more than 10 preliminary rounds. That was depending on the number of teams that signed up.
Words from the early rounds will come from Merriam-Webster's Spell It, the official website for preparation for the National Spelling Bee.
Words for the final round will come from either the Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Edition or the Merriam-Webster online dictionary.
Words will be pronounced according to the diacritical markings given in the Merriam-Webster sources. Any alternative pronunciation will also be given by the "bee" keeper.
The "bee" keeper will pronounce the word, give its primary definition according to Merriam-Webster, use the word in a sentence and pronounce the word a second time.
After receiving the word, team members have 30 seconds to come up with the correct spelling. Collaboration is allowed, and the paper and pencil will be provided. At the end of 30 seconds, the designated speller of that round will spell the word orally.
Teams were able to request a different word for a $10 fee, but were only able to do that once per round. If a team misspelled a word, it could "buy back" into the next round for $20. Our team, the "Rough Writers," (I kept picturing Teddy Roosevelt as our mascot), hoped it wouldn't have to come to that.
The first three rounds of words weren't too bad - our team got such words as "pickle"?and "opera." In fact all the teams survived the first five rounds. I?was thinking that this could last all night.
That was until the word "serif" entered the mix. I was familiar with it as it's used to describe a font. That led to the downfall of the Good Thoughts Study Club. That team had its own cheering squad, complete with signs and noisemakers, which earned it the team spirit award.
Our sixth word was "apraxia." We had Deb be our designated speller for all our rounds. She was spelling out some of the other obscure words that other teams were getting, such as drumlin, vindaloo and bezel. Teams started falling left and right. One team, the Irritable Vowels, was able to get back into the game after misspelling a word because of a mispronunciation (it ended up taking second). We were getting nervous as to what our seventh word would be.
That's when teams started asking for the word origin. Sometimes it helped; other times, it didn't really make a difference. I'd hear the word and just wonder what letter it even started with at times.
Our seventh, and what would become our final, word was "chandelle." We looked at each other in kind of a panic. When it was pronounced, I didn't know if it began with?"sh"?or "ch." Then it was said that the word was of French origin. I figured it would more likely begin with "ch,"?once that was known. So we made a final choice with spelling it "chandel." The French language tends to have masculine and feminine nouns, so I?wasn't sure about how the word should end. It turned out we needed those final two letters. Groan. We were so close. In the end, a team consisting of Senior College students, named the "Elder Bees,"?took first place, followed by "Irritable Vowels"?and a team from the Southwest Minnesota State University Library. We tied for fourth with a couple of other teams. Not bad for a first showing. And definitely not too embarrassing.