Sunday, May 31, 2009

Under a Spell

I am sitting here watching a broadcast of the US National Spelling Bee. It's been delayed to fit our different time zone, so I already know who is going to win because that's been on the news for hours. Nonetheless, I am hooked and cannot not watch it.

There was a fabulous documentary out a couple of a years ago about this contest called Spellbound. It was tremendously involving and compelling, and it has made me aware of what these really smart kids under the age of 14 must be feeling as they stand up there trying to spell words they are unlikely to ever use, like pogonip, axolotl, goombay, xebec and passacaglia. Hey, they're so odd that the Microsoft Word spell checker has just highlighted three of them as incorrect.

They just interviewed a girl who was the first to get eliminated in the finals. She was from Florida and had drawn the word conchyliated. The CH is pronounced like a K, but she got past that tricky part successfully, only to falter by putting an I in where the Y was needed. The woman doing the interview started out by saying, "Conchyliated is a word you will remember for the rest of your life."

And she's absolutely right. It was 47 years ago that I competed in the Syracuse spelling bee. I made it through several rounds but got hung up on ephod which is pronounced E-fodd. It's a garment worn by ancient Hebrew priests, and I put an F in where the PH was needed.

The saddest part for me - while this word is permanently burned into my brain I don't think I have ever been able to work it into a sentence, much less a conversation. I suppose that's because there aren't any ancient Hebrew priests around any more. Otherwise, I could have certainly found one opportunity to say something like, "I can't believe Isaac wore such a loud ephod!"

But of course, if there had been ancient Hebrew priests around, I might have known how to spell ephod and it would have been another word altogether that stayed burned in my brain forever. But as it stands, I suspect I will do a Citizen Kane on my deathbed and totally befuddle whoever is around by gasping as my last word, "Ephod!"

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