Words of ‘nowledge’ from the spelling bee

One competition this summer strikes peril, emotion, heartbreak and indigestion into the hearts of both viewers and competitors.This competition makes football, rodeo, wrestling and rugby look like football, rodeo, wrestling and rugby. I am speaking about the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

On May 29, the national spelling bee ended in a tie between Gokul Benkatachalam and Vanya Shivashankar, who finished with the words “scherenschnitte” and “nunatak,” respectively. Words like these remind me that I’m just below the recommended reading level for Twilight.

I’ve always admired the kids who excel in this competition. These are young brainiacs who can spell “cymotrichous” using only the word’s language of origin, part of speech, and their skill from hours of receptive spelling. I sometimes forget to use “q” instead of “g” in “quest”.

When I was in eighth grade, I was lucky enough to take part in Montana’s state spelling bee. Lucky in that half of the participants from my county’s spelling bee didn’t care and that the other half got words that were much trickier than mine. I won the county bee with the word “Olympian”. I think the second place opponent had to spell, “Pseudopseudohypoparathyroidism”.

I got to the state spelling bee to discover I’m in seat 63 out of 66, allowing me ample time to tremble in fear before my turn. The ceremony began amicably as last year’s champion, who was also participating, delivered a friendly speech in which he reminded us, “You are all winners.” Personally, I thought he was really saying, “You are all going to be losers! I’m going to crush y’all and celebrate in my extravagant hot tub surrounded by my gorgeous girlfriends while you fools cry and contemplate your academic inadequacies.” Eighth grade spelling geniuses are notorious jocks.

The powers that be decided we would have a practice round, which, with 66 of us, took roughly one hour. Eventually I took the stage. I looked out and saw my smiling family, the press and the spelling bee announcer, who was atop a lake of hellfire surrounded by her legion of satanic angels. I may have been imagining this last part.

When I got to the microphone for my practice round word, the announcer looked at me and said, “Knowledge.” Whew, an easy word, clearly there was no way I could mess this up. I just had to remember you cannot change how you spelled a word once you started. I looked confidently at the lady and her sharpened red trident and started.


My grandmother immediately gasped, and in doing so managed to swallow all of the oxygen in the gym, which caused the rest of the audience to suffocate and starve for air. All of us were writhing on the ground when someone managed to open the gymnasium door and let the oxygen back in. Of course, I may be imagining the last two thirds of that part, as the oxygen had left my brain.

I took my seat, awash in self-recrimination. It didn’t help that the simple word I so spectacularly botched is a word that literally says in the dictionary, “facts, information … or stuff you need to know to be smart, but apparently you are not smart William Hamel. Your ancestors must be ashamed. Suffer fool.”  However I rebounded well by correctly spelling “civics,” making my way to the second round.

As I waited for my next turn, a contestant roughly 20 spots ahead of me misspelled the word “Camelot”. Immediately I began to sing Monty Python’s “Knights of the Roundtable,” underneath my breath. This must have been peculiar to the small, petite fifth grade girl beside me, who was probably asking herself “Why is the ugly boy humming? And who is Clark Gable?”

I approached for my second turn. The announcer went, “carrion.” Immediately I said to myself, “Curses Graham Chapman!  Why couldn’t you have a humorous song with the word ‘carrion!’” I was doomed and misspelled the word, ending my quest at the second question. Luckily the Pit of Eternal Peril wasn’t taking new occupants. (Seriously just google these obscure references)

The lesson to be learned here is, uh, um, to put spelling bee words in songs so impressionable eighth graders can remember them. I will never forgive Monty Python for refusing to use the following lyrics, “We dine well here in Camelot, we eat ham and jam and spam a lot, (and carrion upon occasion).”

Actually the real lesson here is to study hard and always try because if you practice hard in whatever you endeavor, you can avoid massive public embarrassment. Yup, there you go new freshman, study and you will not get publicly embarrassed … maybe.  Enjoy Catapolooza, and you have my permission to use this article for your used bubble gum wrap.