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May 28, 2003

Posted by Teresa at 06:54 PM *

The 74th annual Scripps-Howard National Spelling Bee has come and gone. Allow me to direct your attention to #16 on the Round Two Wordlist.

Comments on Spelling:
#1 ::: adrienne ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2003, 09:40 PM:

What a strange one-two punch of emotion Making Light offers this evening--delight (re: the spelling bee word), followed by despair (re: deathcamps). Oh, this world.

#2 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2003, 10:18 PM:

I sometimes wonder whether I should try for a more consistent tone, but then I'd have to pick one to try for, and I'd never be able to decide which one I wanted most.

#3 ::: Greg van Eekhout ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2003, 10:55 PM:

The world's a pretty awful and delightful place. It's important to bear witness to both extremes, and you do a good job of it.

#4 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2003, 08:01 AM:

1. O my gods, bring our words into spelling-bee lists, and defend us against corrupt incursions!

2. I agree with Greg. Don't change a thing.

#5 ::: adrienne ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2003, 08:03 AM:

I agree. Until the delightful and awful world chooses one pole or the other(note: not a turn of events that I'm endorsing), I see no reason why TNH's blog should do the same. The one-two punch is part of the fun, for lack of a better word.

#6 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2003, 10:38 AM:

Imagine my delight to stumble across the spelling bee -- on ESPN! Not even ESPN2, but the main service itself was celebrating literacy and the folks what has got it.

Break time's over! Gotta go.

#7 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2003, 12:11 PM:

So, did anyone spell it right? :-)

#8 ::: Daniel Hoarwitz ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2003, 03:12 PM:

Ms. Hayden of the very fine web site:
"Grok" has been around for forty years it sounds ugly but an awful lot of people at least think they know what it means you can check out:,,sid9_gci212216,00.html

#9 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2003, 04:53 PM:

After that last comment, I have to tell this story.

Back in college, a bunch of us were talking to the residence hall director. He didn't understand sf at all, but was curious enough about why others might find it appealing.

After quite a bit of talk, he said:

"Now, let's see if I grok this ... "

and was flustered when the rest of us burst out laughing.

#10 ::: Elizabeth Bear ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2003, 05:38 PM:

I'm a science fiction fan because my mother before me was a science fiction fan, and I had the incredible good luck to find--in a Goodwill 5-cent box--an original "I Grok Spock" button.

Lime green.

Which I presented to her for her fiftieth birthday.

Doesn't make up for the deathcamps, but sometimes the world does throw you a bone. Keep the blog the way it is.

"Life is very bitter/Life is so sweet."

#11 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2003, 06:15 PM:

Daniel, we're all marvelling at the fact that a word we've been using ever since we were kneehigh is now so accepted that it's part of a spelling bee. We just didn't know it was mainstream now.

It was invented by Robert A. Heinlein in the book Stranger in a Strange Land, in which it comes from Martian. The fact that it's now mainstream English makes us jump up and down, chortling (avert your eyes, there's a wise man).

#12 ::: frank ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2003, 06:36 PM:

So when the speller asked for the country of origin, did they reply with "Mars?"

#13 ::: Kathy Li ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2003, 07:42 PM:

Now, I really wanna see Spellbound.

#14 ::: Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2003, 10:59 PM:

Oh, and Daniel. It's not your fault at all for not knowing this, but T's last name is "Nielsen Hayden" -- just as if it was hyphenated, but it's not. Other important facts. She uses "canonical" in the canonical sense, she likes good scotch and tequila, and it is physically impossible for her to not react to something she finds funny. This latter is very imoportant -- don't crack jokes while walking with her in downtown San Jose.

#15 ::: Jane Yolen ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2003, 12:40 PM:

Also T is and has been a science fiction fan, writer, and editor for the past. . .(my lips are sealed) years. She knows where "grok" comes from. She wins prizes for this stuff. She keeps the rest of us in line. Trust me

A T story as annotation to Erik's wonderfully cryptic "physically impossible for her not to react to something she finds funny. . ." line. Or at least cryptic to any strangers on board. Scene: the Nielsen Haydens are visiting us at our home in Massachusetts. My gallumphing 20 year old son comes in, is introduced to T, says something highly (though shyly) amusing, as is his wont. She immediately crashes to the floor, landing with her head on his size 13 shoes. He looks down at her, then looks up at me. "Oh," he says, light dawning, breaking full over Mt Fuji, "you told me about her." At which point T is completely unable to rise.


#16 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2003, 03:31 PM:

I remember the Fanoclasts of yore, though of course I am too young to remember them, being only mumblety-mumble years old (as IA used to say), when Teresa's collapses became a way of counting the good jokes.

I also remember less pleasant things, like the egg kichel slipped to this unsuspecting goy one Passover...if they try this with you, don't fall for it! Dust, I tell you, dust and ashes (both presumably Kosher for Passover) are its only ingredients.

But I digress. Yes, Teresa groks 'grok'. Also she can recite the beginning of the Canterbury Tales in the original Middle English, and parody it in the same tongue if it suits her. She can deliver bilingual puns without batting an eyelash. Best of all, she's not above deliberately setting up someone else with a straight line, which in comedy is noble indeed.

#17 ::: Rachael ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2003, 04:45 PM:

I do so enjoy fannish lore, feel free to enlighten us newbies more often!

I have found the news coverage of this Spelling Bee very heartening. I have heard many radio segments on it, and it was in the A, B, and variety section of the newspaper this morning!
Being congenitally spelling challenged I have nothing but awe for those brave little'uns. (Don't 'spose there's any way to get a spell check on the comment board? It would sure make my day!)

#18 ::: Jane Yolen ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2003, 05:34 PM:

Good spelling is evidently genetic. The gene missed me by a wide margin. My daughter is worse. My husband is a good speller and so are my boys.

Evidently, you can train your eye and your ability somewhat. But alas, at my age I am hopeless.


#19 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2003, 12:44 PM:

I firmly believe it's partly genetic. I learned to spell via the exact same method used by all the other extremely good spellers I know: the ability popped up around the time I turned seven. The only time I ever worked at it was when I was competing in spelling bees, but that was just data acquisition, like throwing marbles into a bucket: fuchsia, eleemosynary, pharaoh, etiquette, syzygy, parallelism, jodhpurs, supersede, accommodate, minuscule, sacrilegious...

My number-two brother wasn't standing behind the door when they handed out brains, but he's sweated spelling all his life. He's put a hundred times -- a thousand times -- incalculably more effort into it than I ever have; and he still doesn't have the grasp of it I had when I was ten. Neither does Beth Meacham, or Steve Brust, or Erik Olson. Neither did my Granny, who as a kid was made to think she was dumb because she couldn't spell, and never entirely stopped believing it.

Patrick, now, is in the middle range. He's a pretty good speller, but he gets some words wrong. He used to misspell separate until I pointed out that it's from the same root as parity. Bing! Penny drops, he's never misspelled it since. He's finally gotten hierarchical nailed, too.

I can see some point to having weekly spelling lessons for kids like Patrick was. For kids like me, it's a combination freebie and waste of time. But for those who'll always have to struggle with spelling, I have to think it would make more sense to teach them phonics, etymology, and spelling strategies -- why things are spelled the way they are, as well as how -- rather than the straight memory-work of learning this week's wordlist. If they could remember spellings, they wouldn't have a problem in the first place.

What I absolutely don't see the justice of is grading all the different sorts as though they were engaged in the same task.

#20 ::: Anne ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2003, 01:13 PM:

And on a similar note, yesterday's United Feature Syndicate crossword (that's the very easy one) had the clue "empathize" for a four-letter word ending in K. My goodness, I think we're mainstream!

#21 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2003, 02:35 PM:

Teresa, I think it was Jon Singer who told me about research that showed that visual spellers tend to spell well, while aural spellers (those who "sound it out") tend to spell badly.

I think the genetic part is your sense-channel predisposition.

Corrollary: people who read a lot (assuming the books are spelled correctly; some I've read have made me compress my lips, I'm afraid - 'supercede' wasn't even the most egregious dereliction) will, in general, spell better than people who do not, because their visual image of the correctly-spelled word is reinforced more. I'd love to do a study on this.

#22 ::: rosalee karefa-smart ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2003, 11:50 AM:

I am just watching espn2's broadcast of the 2003 spelling bee. To my horror, I heard the word, "semplice," repeatedly MISpronounced "semplUHchay," even when the contestant asked more than once whether the word could not be pronounced "sempl--SHORT 'I'--chay." And just now, the word "cubitiere" was mispronounced. In both cases, the children mis-spelled their words at precisely the mispronounced syllable! This is really painful.

#23 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2003, 10:55 PM:

Say what? This is awful.

I remember being in a spelling bee with one of those. He asked me for what I could only hear as "emphitheatre", and if I hadn't squeaked "What?!", and gotten a sympathetic laugh out of the audience, I might not have had the nerve to ask for a definition. I did. It was "amphitheatre", and I could have gone down right there on a word I knew perfectly well.

As the baseball fans say, you hate to see this kind of thing at this level of play.

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