Competative Speling. No, I Mean, Competitive Spelling.

Winner Sukanya Roy, 14, of Wilkes-Barre, Pa., during the finals of the 2011 Scripps National Spelling Bee in Oxon Hills, Md., Thursday. (AP)
Winner Sukanya Roy, 14, of Wilkes-Barre, Pa., during the finals of the 2011 Scripps National Spelling Bee in Oxon Hills, Md., Thursday. (AP)

Most of the time, using a big word when a small one will serve is foolish.

I am thinking of my early days as a high school teacher, when one of my students handed in a paper in which a word in the first sentence had been erased and replaced. The earlier draft of the paper had begun: "It was a bad day," which would have been a fine way to start a story. But the author had wiped out "bad" and replaced it with an adjective that he'd figured would be more impressive, and so his story began: "It was a egregious day."

But sometimes big words must be called upon, such as when it is time for the Scripps National Spelling Bee, as it was this week, because if there were only small words on the list, the spelling bee would go on well past the time when the youngsters competing should have left home and found useful work, since they are very good spellers, and would never miss on words like "bad," or even "egregious."

This brings me to the case of one Nicholas Rushlow, who has been ascending to the final rounds of the Scripps competition ever since he was nine. He's now 13, and this year he got knocked out in the eighth round because he misspelled "caffiol," which is the fragrant oil produced by roasting coffee. Nick, if it makes you feel any better, I'd have gotten "oil" and "coffee" all right, but under the hot lights, I'd probably have spelled fragrant with an "e" and that would have been it for me.

To his credit, although Nicholas Rushlow is said to have had a sore throat on the evening which saw him miss on caffiol by one crumby letter, he did not use the sore throat as an excuse, which suggests that he is not only a good speller, but a stand-up guy.

If you are still wondering what spelling has to do with sports, you are too young to have struggled with "Yastrzemski," which is the name of a guy who used to play for the Red Sox, and you probably don't remember that when George Brett, late of the Royals, was out of commission for a time, everybody in the sports writing dodge had to learn to spell "hemoroids," which that squiggly red line tells me I need to look up all over again. Got it: hemorhoids. No, wait: hemorrhoids.

So good on you, Nicholas Rushlow, for slamming "clairsentience" out of the park, which certainly showed some clear thinking. But this being a sports program of sorts, we have to at least mention the winner of the competition, a fourteen year old girl named Sukanya Roy. She cinched the win by correctly spelling "cymotrichous," which apparently means "wavy hair." When I type this "cymotrichous" correctly, it gets that red, squiggly line under it. This means Ms. Roy is not only a better speller than I am, but also smarter than my computer.

This program aired on June 3, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.

Bill Littlefield Host, Only A Game
Bill Littlefield was the host of Only A Game from 1993 until 2018.



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