Spelling Withdrawals Pt.4 – A Month Later

A Month Later:

It was really late in the night and I was staring a bit blearily at the computer. I wasn’t sure what had given me the idea to start a blog about spelling but here I was, staring at a skeleton of a website, toggling around with colors, fonts, themes, layouts, everything. I was tossing ideas around my head debating what exactly I would be writing about.

How should I start, should I be writing about roots, languages, I mean there’s so much stuff. It then it struck me, the one question and its many variations that so many people had asked me throughout my years as a speller.

“So, why do you do spelling. It’s just a bunch of words that you’re probably never even going to use. I mean there’s autocorrect if you don’t know how to spell a word.”

Well, first of all, I’m definitely a foodie, and knowing those words has kept me from stumbling over names of some of my favorite dishes. Roots, words, language patterns all help me when I’m Also, autocorrect is so buggy most of the time and just because it’s there does not mean you have to use it. I mean, if you’ve learned how to bike, you don’t keep the training wheels on just because they exist.

“What’s the secret to memorizing all of those words? Do you just look at them over and over until you know them by heart? That’s so boring.”

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I definitely did not memorize that many words. Of course, there are the really weird ones that nobody really gets and that you absolutely have to know. The only other things I’ve ever memorized were language patterns and roots, which were total lifesavers.

Words have always been quite enchanting. They’re completely made up but once they’ve entered a language they take on a life of their own, becoming completely new entities that take on any purpose people want them to. English as a language has become particularly adept at utilizing and incorporating ideas from other languages while at least attempting to preserve its original sounds.

Spelling Withdrawals Pt.3- Coming to terms

Day 3 After the Bee:

I am curled up in a ball, clutching on to the 3rd Unabridged Dictionary like a lifeline as I surrounded by a cumulative circle of spelling paraphernalia ranging from water bottles to Snoopy to my beloved Banagrams. No, not really, but mentally I may as well be. I call myself a retired speller, slightly jokingly, slightly with a twinge of sadness. I’ve joined the ranks of whom I thought of as “really old people” as a 4th grader starting spelling. I can feel my spelling hairs graying and my bee’s knee’s creaking with each step. But in all seriousness, I’ve started to come to terms with the idea that I was done with spelling. But I’m not completed detached yet. I’ve found some things that start to occupy my time, like that neverending pile of summer homework.

I turn on my computer, my hands smoothly going straight to open Merriam Webster out of force of habit. The simple action requires no thought, it has become an automatic motion as soon as I power on a device. The mere act of closing the window feels like a light sting, reminding me that I don’t need the CD-ROM to be permanently open anymore. (Also totally false. I am guilty of still using it if I want to define a word)

But despite all of this effervescing nostalgia that’s annoyingly ever-present, I am starting to get used to days where I may not even look at spelling materials. However, I still set apart time to just skim over random languages or mess around with search functions. At least I’ve passed the time of obsessively reading through news articles about spelling bees or twitter threads, which can sometimes be surprisingly incendiary.

Spelling Withdrawals Pt.2- After the Bee

Day 1 After the Bee:

I am still very, very attached to the bee and most of my day is spent furiously typing at speeds I thought were impossible on Spelling Central. I believe that chat was extremely laggy due to overload to the point a message could take upwards of a minute to appear and where scrolling up or down was a distant thought. Eventually, I take a break from this and try to figure out something to do next. My first thought is, “Why don’t I look at some roots or languages” and then it all hit me at once. It was fin. The curtains had closed and the crowd had exited. “THE END” played through my mind like the ends of old films. I probably was never ever going to see anyone from spelling again (that is definitely false, beeunions are the best, in fact, I’ll be seeing some speller friends in a couple days)

I honestly had felt a little lost that day. I couldn’t figure out if I felt relieved or sad or happy that my spelling career or journey or whatever people call it was done, so I settled for a weird mixture. Many times throughout the day I found my self inching towards my well-loved (read: falling apart) books and notes, but a tiny niggling voice nagged at me saying “Isn’t this what you wanted, you can do anything you want to now.” Almost childishly, I responded with “But I do want to do spelling”


Ode to Schwa

Seriously, how many schwas are even in this word.

Spellers almost unanimously condemn the schwa as one of the most torturous sounds that one could ever receive. It is almost always met with sounds of despair and frustration. Some people going as far to assign epithets such as “Speller-slayer” or “The Ultimate Bane” as if it was a sword in the style of Tolkien or Martin. However, I feel that it almost could be described as an epitome of what allows spelling bees in English to exist. It’s the versatility of the schwa that also is reflected in the English language. If every single word in the English language followed a set of standard conventions then there would almost be no purpose at all at spelling words. It is the weird, wacky, wobbly sense of coherence that holds a Germanic language with a primarily Romance language vocabulary together. Its versatility is how lachsschinken and recercellee exist in the same language despite looking and sounding like a complete antithesis to each other. One hard, guttural consonants and the other soft sounds directed by its vowels.

So as an open letter to the schwa, I appreciate how you allow different words and sounds to be joined together to form even more amazing words. The sheer number of Latin and Greek words that use you as a sort of glue is testament to how much you are overlooked. After all, it’s biology, not bilogy.

Spelling Withdrawals Pt.1 – A Series

After the glitz and glamor of the 2017 Scripps National Spelling bee, an entire week of spelling, meeting old friends and new friends, staying up until when I normally woke up on the last day, after-after-after parties, my spelling career was complete. Years of studying and having fun exploring new words, languages, roots, you name it, I’ve probably entered it in the “Find Definition” function on the Merriam Webster CD-ROM, seemed like they were things to be left in the past. I’d always known, in my head that spelling competitions were not available on a large scale to people older than eighth grade, but never had that bit of knowledge seemed so daunting to me.  I thought that that chapter was done and that I was supposedly ready to move on to the next.

There’s an emotional, almost visceral aspect of spelling that not many people seem to be talking about. We aren’t robots mechanically spitting out a series of letters, and then if there is a mistake in the ‘programming’ we don’t just go home and try to chomp down some more words hoping that next time we’ll get the words right. The rush, your heart pounding as you utter out a sequence of letters in front of an audience, hoping, praying that it was the right one. Or for a brief moment, you feel like you are soaring above the clouds after you spell a word correctly that you’ve never even heard before. However, not everything is so positive all the time. After all, bees would not work if everyone always spelled correctly. There also is a plummeting feeling when one hears “I’m sorry but you have spelled the word incorrectly” or the sound of the bell. To this day, I still cringe a bit when I hear a bell ring in the same tone.