Sunday, October 25, 2015

I am the Werd Nerd

I love words! I love their derivations, their histories, their roots, their etymology! And once a year, I love pronouncing them. That happens at the Alaska Literacy Program’s annual BizBee, the adult spelling bee. Rules are different for the grown-ups: spellers compete as teams of three, and they get to confer on the spelling. If they don’t like the word they’re given, they can pay to send that word to a rival team and get a new one. Obviously, this is a fund raiser and obviously, it’s a lot of fun. I used to pronounce for the Alaska State Spelling Bee – the “real” one with the kids – and it was fairly traumatic, with occasional tears. The adults don’t cry, but they also NEVER forget the words they’ve misspelled.

So every year, I make up a story about the night’s action with all the words and their definitions. As unbelievable as it seems, all the words come from Webster’s Third New International Dictionary. And if you think they’re easy, just imagine spelling in front of an audience. Here goes!

You have to worry about a spelling bee when the first word is xylophone, but miraculously, no one went out in the first round. Nevertheless, the TelAlaska team worried about Permian and passed it on to the “Dewey Decimators” of the Anchorage Public Library (in their hard hats and safety vests from Loussac Library construction). Unfortunately, in the second round, Permian was enough to render the librarians extinct.
Round 3 marked the cold-blooded demise of the Literacy Program’s home team with herpetology. The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship just didn’t have the spine to get past notochord, and they fell out soon after.

Something very bizarre happened in Round 4. The man in the iron mask from Arctic Entries #2, “Ye Olde Autocorrekt Team,” stood up – like a crazy man – and shouted some medieval sort of thing to the audience … and went on to spell his word. The outbursts proved epidemic: the Mensa speller announced “menhaden, not to be confused with manhating,” and went on to catch the fish.
Round 5 saw lots of action. No matter how sprightly or playful the scherzo, it knocked the Jewel Lake Parish/Children’s World team out in triple time. ServiceMASTER sensed the drought and passed foggara to United Way, who managed to drown in the desert right after. This was really sad because their team, dubbed “Spell Me Up, Scotty,” came accompanied by cheerleaders who yelled things like, “Make it so, #1!”

The risk in passing a word lies in not knowing its replacement: alas, the doors were closed on ServiceMASTER by their new gatekeeper, durwan.

Three teams couldn’t pluck the strings of pizzicato so they passed it on to “Ye Olde Autocorrekt,” and it would prove their swan song in Round 6. In a four-word tragedy, the Providence “Health Literacy Heroes” passed three words in succession (pogrom, intaglio, and Holi ) only to fall off their skis on vorlage.

In Round 6, First National Bank’s fondness for things Greek went out in the face of philhellenism, but not before they sent zeitgeber on to TelAlaska. That cleaned the biological clocks of the “Telephonics,” but they surprised us all by pulling out their TeamSaver Award. For having sold the most raffle tickets, they held a secret Get-out-of-Jail free card and were back in the game.

Periodically, the Human Dictionary was called upon for a second opinion for those teams not trusting the New York origins of the pronouncer, and the three judges (the “Killer Bees”) – all former and current school board members – took the heat as the bearers of good (“That is correct.”) and bad news (“That is incorrect.”).

Arctic Entries #1 – after a miraculous string of successfully spelling words originating in Sanskrit – suffered redness, itching, and lesions as they went out in Round 8 on eczematous. Ooh, things got heated: the Sons of Norway – the 2013 champions – passed fanfaronade to Mensa, last year’s champions, and it proved fatal in Round 9. Mensa lost all boasting rights; fanfaronade knocked them out. But in the same round, all the reading in the world couldn’t save the Sons of Norway from omnilegent or TelAlaska, buried in soot with fuliginous. What happens when all teams are eliminated in one round? They all come back in.

But TelAlaska couldn’t dig themselves out after hypogeal so that left Mensa and the Sons of Norway. Poor Mensa – faced with the hardest word of the whole evening to pronounce – intussusception – just couldn’t put pieces back together. That left the Sons of Norway to face two words to win: they ate up porcini and didn’t die on the sword of katana. New champions for 2015!
Okay, maybe you have to be a Werd Nerd to find all this remotely interesting, but it sure is a lot of laughs. And think of the value of spelling for our Third Thirds: a way to keep our brains active and our cognitive abilities sharp. But it only works if the words are tough, obscure, and frustrating!

1 comment:

  1. I'll never forget competing in the BizBee years ago. I misspelled the word "meniscus." At that time I was young and healthy, and so were my friends, and it just never came up. Nowadays I hear the word often. I must get down on my knees and pray that I don't hear it in a doctor's office.


Sharing Button