June 04, 2004

Bee Freezin'

So I caught the last few rounds of the spelling bee yesterday, though I missed second-place finisher Akshay Buddiga's fainting spell. While I appreciate the whole boy-faints-onstage/fights-his-way-back-to-the-top thing -- I mean, that kind of arc is the basis for pretty much every sports movie ever made -- I was rooting for David Tidmarsh pretty much from the moment I tuned in. I just didn't like Akshay's game. He was a staller.

I mean, yes. The kids always ask for a definition, and for the word to be used in a sentence, and for the language of origin. Sure. Whatever. But.

Akshay had been given the word "scheherazadian". I think this is a pretty easy word, apart from trying to figure out whether it ends in -ian or -ean (at least, compared to other competition words like "sophrosyne", pronounced /suh-FROSS-uh-nee/). Anyway, "scheherazadian" had, like, four different pronunciations. The pronouncer read them all, and then Akshay asked him to read them all again. And then he asked, "Are there any alternate pronunciations?" I thought I detected the eternally neutral pronouncer letting a little bit of annoyance show through when he responded, "Apart from the four I have already given you, no." (All dialogue slightly paraphrased, of course.) He then went over his time limit spelling the word, getting stuck for ages on the second H -- which is clearly not the hard part of the word, since there aren't that many letters that English uses to make an H sound.

After that, it was announced that because he had now gone over his time limit twice while spelling words, he was going to be subject to a shorter, stricter time limit. (The article above implies that the shorter time limit was due to a between-round delay on Akshay's part, but that's wrong.) They then gave him the word "schwarmerei" (which, in my brain, I misspelled as "schwermerei"...because that first vowel sure as hell didn't sound like an A when they pronounced it!), and he spent a lot of time asking questions -- time that he didn't have anymore. He asked for a definition: "excessive enthusiasm or sentimentality", from German. Then he asked for the part of speech, and maybe I'm just projecting, but I feel like I could hear the pronouncer's thought, "If you had been listening to the definition, you would know this word is a noun. So either you're stalling now; or you weren't paying attention when I read the definition, which means you were stalling then as well; or you honestly couldn't figure out what part of speech it was from the definition, in which case you should probably be spending a little more time studying grammar and a little less time studying spelling."

Anyway, Akshay kept asking questions, and I didn't think this was a good idea, because he never gave himself any time to just stop and think about the word. Then they announced that he had 30 seconds left, and he must start spelling. At this point, I think he just gave up, guessing "svarmeri", leaving out the /sh/ sound at the beginning completely. And that's not even close to German-looking. I know nobody gets to second place in the national spelling bee without studying German roots, so -- clearly, he just threw up his hands and said to hell with it.

Sure, I feel for him. No one likes to choke. God knows it's happened to me. But I'm still glad he didn't win. Rock on, David Scott Tidmarsh. Rock on.

Read more bee coverage here (various entries), here, and here, and you may also wish to savor this headline.

Posted by Francis at 05:22 AM

I think the s-c-h-e-h-e was a "when you spell banana how do you know when to stop?" sort of thing for Akshay. I felt bad for him because he just didn't look confident about how many h-e's he had done.

But I was also rooting for Tidmarsh. He just seemed so chill as he "wrote out" the words on the back of his bib and then had to hold back tears (and keep from Akshaying on stage) when (1) schwarmerei stumped Akshay; and (2) he clearly knew both gaminerie and autochthonous.

Posted by: Ugarte at June 4, 2004 06:50 AM

A couple of comments on "Schwarmerei:"

1) I, too, had the first vowel pegged as 'e' -- after they announced the correct spelling, I suspected, and later verified, that the original German spelling includes an umlaut. Whether or not you like Akshay, I think you'd agree that it's a bit crummy to include words that lost accents which were crucial to pronunciation. Of course, they had "facade" in round 4, and everyone thought it was unfair due to its ease.

2) In a way, Akshay did account for the /sh/ sound. In German, 's' before a consonant is frequently pronounced /sh/, as in "spiel" (a round 1 word, if I remember correctly). And I was personally vacillating between 'w' and 'v' due to the /f/ sound in the alternate pronunciation. But, indeed, 'sv' doesn't look remotely German.

And about his stalling: lots of kids asked for parts of speech. Sometimes it can be unclear from the definition, as the distinction between adjective and adverb, or the use of a word like "fear" which might be a noun or a verb. But I think there may be something else at work here. When these kids hear the definition, they scan it for key terms that might influence the derivation of the word. They hear "pollen" and "gather" and rustle up the appropriate roots, and then forget the rest of the context that gives them the ending. Maybe I'm grasping at straws here.

But in the end, I'm all for David Tidmarsh. Particularly because he did the exact same thing I would have done if I were about to win the big one: panic like hell. Damn those kids who can spell "pococurante" and be so, well, pococurante.

Posted by: Nathan at June 4, 2004 10:03 PM

David Scott Tidmarsh U ROCk!!!!....
i aLwaYs suPPorT hIM.....;-)

Posted by: Elvina at June 18, 2004 09:05 PM