No Magic to This Spell

The Emerging Writers’ Festival ended last night with a spelling bee. It was won by Mel Campbell, who correctly spelled the word bildungsroman (a coming-of-age novel, the most famous example of which is probably LP Hartley’s The Go-Between).

Coincidentally, in the US, the Scripps National Spelling Bee was held this weekend. The competition was won by 14 year-old Sukanya Roy, who lives near Scranton, Pennsylvania. She correctly spelled the word ‘cymotrichous‘ (just one of many mind-melters), which is the condition of having wavy hair. It was especially impressive as Sukanya has straight hair. She won a $30,000 cash prize, a trophy, a $2,500 savings bond, a reference library from Merriam-Webster, $2,600 in reference works and a lifetime membership to Britannica Online Premium from Encyclopædia Britannica, $5,000 cash prize from the Sigma Phi Epsilon Educational Foundation, an online course and a Nook eReader from K12 Inc, and a copy of Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged on CD-ROM from Merriam-Webster.

As depicted in the 2002 documentary Spellbound, the National Spelling Bee (sponsored by the Scripps media conglomerate) is held over the Memorial Day weekend in Maryland, near Washington DC. The winner of the 1999 bee – depicted in the documentary – was Nupur Lala, who went on to study brain behaviour and cognitive science. She won by correctly spelling the word ‘logorrhea’ (an apt word with which to win a spelling bee). Eight of the past 13 winners – including the last four winners – have been of South Asian descent. In an NPR report, Ben Zimmer of Visual Thesaurus said, “These kids are spending sometimes a few hours a day going through word lists. Very often, they are coming from immigrant families that really prize learning English as part of becoming assimilated into American culture. So, my hat’s off to all of these young spellers.”

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