Deb and I watched the national spelling bee on TV Friday night, live from Washington DC. I don't think I'd ever seen it before. Brought back memories, and not just of the spelling bees (in which I did well, but did not excel).
Happy memories... learning new words and coming up with sentences for weekly spelling tests in grade school. Parallelogram! Argyle!
Shameful memories... the way I lost my temper doing the same exercises for a high school class called Precollege Writing, which I felt was below me (teacher made me stay after class to talk about my attitude!)
Anxious memories... the pop quiz in seventh grade where we had to say which words were spelled with an IE, which with an EI? (Several clever kids figured out that the teacher had set them up so they alternated - but not me).
I'd still say these things are worth studying. But even by the time I had to take a spelling test to get into journalism school, such skills were becoming less important. Spell checking had come into its own.
So many languages are more predictable than English. Can you imagine a spelling bee in Spanish? Or Indonesian? Or Dutch? You could learn to pronounce and write any of those languages quite easily because they consistently follow their own rules. Not English. We have words like lagniappe and triptych, words derived from related languages that nevertheless have radically different spelling patterns. The only thing to do - if you aspire to the Scripps National Spelling Bee, that is - is get yourself a coach, and read a couple dozen pages of the dictionary every day.
The other day Deb came home from the store with a CD of computer word games. "Here," she said, "load this on your computer." I've spent a shameful amount of time trying to master the anagram game. It has strange ideas of what constitutes English and what doesn't. I had to turn off the sound effects... the animated jungle monkeys kept telling me, scornfully, "that's not a word!"
"Is too!" I'd whine back.
For example, from the letters NYCROA
I came up with:
CRAYON, RAY, CRY, ARC, CAR, CAN, OAR, NOR, RAN
But the program rejected CRAY, ROC, COY, YON, RACY and NARY ...
And, lest I think more highly of myself than I ought to, let me confess I didn't see (not in the 90 seconds alloted) RAYON, NAY, ANY, CORN, CORNY, ACORN, and YARN!
Picture: Champion speller Sameer Mishra with his trophy (which is a good example of a guerdon. That was the word on which he won the tournament, beating Sidharth Chand, who misspelled prosopopoeia).