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Some things are capable of striking fear right into the heart of a person's being. For some, it's a fear of heights. Others are petrified at the very thought of small eight-legged insects. For Bill Littlefield, his deep fear used to be the spelling bee. But now the tables have turned, and Bill has decided to take a new approach to this intellectual slugfest.
I am a better speller than I used to be, but that’s a humble claim. On a test in elementary school, I spelled “necessary” with several superfluous s’s and at least one too many “c’s. I spelled it as if it were pronounced nec-ces-es-sary. I remember that more clearly than I remember striking out with the tying run on base or missing a foul shot with a game on the line, though I must have done those things, too. I remember it because my teacher, who, inexplicably, given that I lived in New Jersey, was a fan of the Cleveland Indians, called me to the front of the room. She sat me down beside her desk and pointed out the several red circles my bloated word had apparently demanded. The only reason she didn’t cut me from the spelling team is that there was no spelling team. I was not trying to be a smart ass when I spelled necessary that way. I had a friend in the class who was a smart ass. The teacher asked him to spell subtle. He spelled it correctly. Then she asked him to use the word in a sentence. He smiled and said, “It was subtle.” I remember that. I don’t remember whether he was sent to the principal. (Princi - P-A-L, because the principal is your pal.) Anyway, I bring this up because I recently agreed to participate in a spelling bee, which is a competition for spellers, and so, a kind of sport. As a child, I would have considered it a cruel exercise. I wouldn’t have had to fake illness to avoid it. I would have been ill. Now I approach the spelling bee without fear, because my role will be only to pronounce words, not to spell them. I have the words in front of me now. Ossicle. Humaniora. Demagoguery. I will pronounce each of the words slowly and clearly. I will attempt to pronounce them so transparently that the poor schnooks charged with spelling them will be unable to fail. Dissimilitude. Nonage. Grenade. “Grenade?” Grenade? What kind of a sadist puts “grenade” in a spelling bee? Anyway, should any of the spellers start to stumble, I will attempt to signal them by lifting my eyebrow a little. Because everybody can win at spelling. It is not like most other sports and games. It is not necessary, n-e-c-e-s-s-a-r-y, for anyone to lose.
This program aired on April 3, 2008. The audio for this program is not available.
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