How to win a spelling bee: always ask for the definition

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It’s almost — no, it is — annoying. If there’s a misspelled word out there, I see it, groan, and usually point it out to my husband, Mitch, who is accustomed to my persnicketiness (yes, it’s spelled correctly; I looked it up). Now I’m not talking about truly obscure, rarely seen words. I would probably have to grab a dictionary to look those up, but when it comes to the words we occasionally see misspelled in our daily lives, such as judgment, believable, conceive, I always notice them. It’s similar to when I walk into a room and immediately spot a tiny spider up high on a wall. I have a gift for that, too. But the spelling gift is not really a gift; it’s a curse. That’s because I’m seeing words misspelled more and more, especially on my USA Today app and in those news messages that crawl across the bottom of the t.v. screen. People, proofread. Please. Three times.

When I was in eighth grade I went to the Kansas State Spelling Bee in Topeka, Kansas and competed for the state title with one student from every county in Kansas. There are 105, believe it or not. On about the fourth round, I went out on the word velveteen. Didn’t ask for a definition. I was so unnerved by being given a word that I hadn’t heard before that I simply forgot that asking for a definition is one sure-fire way to buy yourself some time to think it through. After all, I had heard of velvet, and if I had known my word was the actual full name of the luxurious fabric, then I would have known to spell it v-e-l-v-e-t-e-e-n and not  v-e-l-v-a-t-e-e-n.

And there went my dreams of spelling fame. No trip to Washington, DC. No monetary prize. But then again, no more lunches poring over a dictionary with Mrs. Mayberry, my English teacher, while everyone else played dodgeball and socialized in the gym. No more nerves thinking about the upcoming bee, where the rules are many, and the rule-watching parents are more. But I would have loved to have won because I have a crush on words. I really do. And, of course, I was able to spell the word that won the bee: silhouette, which isn’t a word I see often… but if I do see it someday and it’s misspelled, well, I’ll catch it. And groan.

 

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