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Spelling: “It’s a damn poor mind that can think of only one way to spell a word.” – President Andrew Jackson

Was it Miss Green’s class, or Mr. Hubbling’s?

Maybe both.

On some Friday afternoons, the grade school teacher would ask an equal number of students to stand on each side of the classroom.

The spelling bee was about to begin.

What I remember about those spelldowns is this: I never won. And second, I was happy if I made it to the last 10 students or so.

I always felt bad for the first student who missed a word and had to take his seat.

I also remember who generally was the last to sit down and the winner of the contest: Bonnie Biskeborn, who wasn’t just good in spelling but anything academic.

When I read last week that there were not one or two but eight national Scripps Spelling Bee champions, I was horrified.

Sure, the competition lasted 20 rounds and each of the finalists successfully spelled 12 words. But far better if the contest had been extended or if more difficult words had been used so that one person could be crowned.

What if 10 contestants tie next year? Or 15?

Back in the day, local organizers would ask me as publisher of The Daily Republic to pronounce for the regional spelling contest, the first step toward state qualifying. Many schools from central and eastern South Dakota would compete, and I recall spending a fair amount of time on the word list, making sure I knew how to pronounce the words.

For the state competition, the words were more difficult and as the pronouncer one year, I was forced to spend even more time studying.

Judging by some of the words used for the national bee, I’m glad someone else was doing the pronouncing.

A sampling:

Woebegoneness: a noun meaning strongly affected with woe. I know, it brings to mind Garrison Keillor and Lake Woebegon.

Crystallographer: a noun, meaning a science that deals with the structure of crystals.

Parvenuism: a noun associated with rising to an unaccustomed position of wealth or power.

Neutercane: a noun, which is a cyclone that is fewer than 100 miles wide.

Some may say that spelling isn’t that important for kids today since they have a spell checker on their phones or other devices. But those programs don’t distinguish between homonyms, which can lead to some embarrassing errors. To wit:

“Take my advise, no the rite word so your knot embarrassed.”

June 12, 2019