Friday, May 29, 2009

Can You Spell Bogus?

I know this is just the geeky kind of thing you would expect me to watch but, until last night, I had never seen the Scripps National Spelling Bee before. It’s an interesting competition but it’s hard to believe it’s become as popular as it has. Based on the emails I receive from friends and co-workers, no one in America knows how to spell any more; let alone take the time to use spell check!

Just as weird is that the early rounds are on ESPN. What the heck does spelling have to do with sports? Far be it for me to complain about any show that has future ex-wife Erin Andrews interviewing the losers on the “sideline” but sports? No.

Even still, I watched. I think of myself as a pretty good speller. In the second grade I placed 2nd in a school-wide spelling bee against 2nd, 3rd and 4th graders. I went out on marshmallow. (It sounds a lot more like marsh-mellow than marsh-mallow!) I would watch when the word was first pronounced but then I’d avert my eyes before the word would come up on the screen. I’d listen to all the stall tactics the kids use (“Can I have the origin of the word?” “Can you give me the definition?” “Uh, any chance you could spell the word for me?”) and then would take my best shot at spelling the word myself. simnel. passacaglia. amarevole. I never got even one word right!

And then it hit me! Holy crap! None of these words are real! They made ‘em all up! iliopsoas. conchyliated. omphaloskepsis. No one I know has ever heard of any of these words. Oh sure, my son, Jeremy, said he recognized the final, winning word (Laodicean) but I think that’s just because it sounds like the name of a city in the New Testament that he probably heard about in Sunday School years ago. Still, not a real word.

And if you want evidence, here it is: Not one of the words is recognized by spell check in Microsoft Word!

About the time I realized the whole thing is faked, I got an email from my other son, Jake, who suggested that we all take part in the

NATIONAL SPELLING BEE DRINKING GAME

The rules are simple. You just take a drink . . .

Every time a contestant:
 Asks for the origin of a word
 Asks for the word in a sentence (drink AFTER the word is used in a sentence)
 Has his/her pronunciation corrected by the judges
 Fist pumps (drink while fist pumping)
 High Fives (slap the person to your right, drink once)
 Spells a word with his/her finger (i.e. on hand, name card, or in the air)

Every time the camera shows:
 Family/friends with signs (mock the sign and take a drink)
 Mothers crying

Every time:
 The bell rings (signifying the word was spelled wrong)

I know I may sound like I’m a big drinker but I’m really not. Jake’s game would have gotten me drunk in about 3 seconds I never get drunk and I certainly was not going to use the beverage Jake said was the official beer of the Scripps National Spelling Bee: PBR!

But then future ex-wife Erin Andrews came on and I decided to try a modified version of the game. I would only take a drink (Rogue Imperial Stout - not that sparkling goat urine Jake suggested) when future ex-wife Erin Andrews is on screen. Of course I don't quit drinking until she's off screen so that's kind of a problem . . .

Eventually I just focused on the contestants and the made up words they were pretending to spell. These were my favorites – the ones I was rooting for:

Tim Ruiter of Centerville, Virginia. Just from watching him for a few rounds I was not surprised that his bio on the Scripps National Spelling Bee web site confirmed what I already suspected: “Tim has devoted a lot of time to Star Wars, Star Trek, and The Lord of the Rings. He's studied the character of Gollum enough to pull off a terrific impression.”

Kyle Mou of Peoria, Illinois. Kyle went out on schizaffin – a made up word if I’ve ever heard one! (Ostensibly it means: a small breakfast cake originally developed by Snoop Dog.) His bio says he “enjoys his time spent as a member of his school's scholastic bowl team.” His “scholastic bowl team?” What the heck is that? Bowling and scholastics do NOT go together. And how would it work anyway? Every pin represents an element of the periodic table and you have to give the common name of the compound created by the pins you’ve knocked down?

Aishwarya Pastapur, Springfield, Illinois. She was so serious! She made every word look like the fate of the free world depended on her getting it right! I mean, how tough is guayabera anyway? (Guayabera: a refreshing drink native to the Oaxaca region of Mexico.)

Kennyi Aouad, Terra Haute, Indiana. This guy was the opposite of Aishawarya. Mr. Smirkypants! Looked like he might bust up at any moment. He went out on the word palatschinken, which they claimed was a type of “mouth watering poultry.” (I ain’t buying it.)

Neetu Chandak, Geneva New York. The thing I loved most about this girl is that after she spelled (or misspelled, as the case may be) her last word (derriengue – which is some kind of whipped topping used on, well, you don’t wanna know), she immediately said, “ding!” She knew she hadn’t gotten it right. It was good for a laugh in a room full of nerds.

Kavya Shivashankar, Olathe, Kansas. This is your champion, ladies and gentlemen. A three-time top 10 finisher who “looks forward to becoming a neurosurgeon.” Big surprise! A profession featuring a lot of made up words!

All in all, it was pretty cool but by the end of the tournament I had formed a new theory: All the made up words are nothing but a “word jumble” using the contestants names!
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