Tuesday, May 29, 2012

WELCOME TO NATIONAL HARBOR:  This morning, two hundred seventy-eight of the brightest kids in America will begin the fulfillment of months and years of preparation for the National Spelling Bee, not in front of a microphone but in front of a computer. There, Dr. Jacques Bailly's voice will be heard over headphones, as he reads them fifty words, with their definitions, languages of origin, and the like displayed on the screen, and they can take their time to spell each correctly. (This is unlike last year, where Dr. Bailly did it live in a room in front of all of them in a timed written competition.) Of those fifty words, twenty-five will count, and their results on today's words, plus the two they'll get on the microphones on Wednesday, will determine who will be among the up-to-fifty kids competing for the championship on Thursday.

This is now the tenth year I've been live-blogging the Bee, and as in years past, we're here to celebrate these great kids, to be amazed by what they can do, and to occasionally mock the Bee when the kid from Ghana has to spell the name of the Passover ritual meal, or seven Canadians go down in a row, or when there's a run of words derived from Afrikaans that we just can't believe.

What we won't do -- and we have learned this lesson, believe me -- is mock the kids, or presume we can learn anything meaningful about them or their parents based on the brief slices we see on tv. As my favorite line from Frost/Nixon goes, "The first and greatest sin or deception of television is that it simplifies, it diminishes. Great, complex ideas, tranches of time. Whole careers become reduced to a single snapshot." We will try to be modest about what we believe we're seeing; the only thing we can know for sure is whether the word is spelled correctly, and what we learn from former spellers thereafter.

Indeed, we've been blessed to have so many great former competitors join us during Bee Week to share their experiences, as well as the exuberant prose of our friend Shonda Rhimes, who will be returning again this year. We will gladly republish more submissions from new friends, and old ones, as this week proceeds.

Good luck to all the competitors, and let's hope for a fun week.


  1. sconstant9:24 AM

    We need an official toast.   Or an epic poem.   Or a limerick.  Something.

  2. Uncle Spike10:05 AM

    There was a poem/prayer that former pronouncer Alex Cameron's colleague came up with. Kinda long and highfalutin, but pretty cool, too. I bet I could scrounge it up somewhere... (seeing as how I'm at the host hotel, and the prayer is in the "Spellers' Hall of Fame.")

    It's lots of fun to be at ground zero for all the spelling excitement again!

  3. Before we start the Bee coverage, I have an honest to goodness question for all of you -- If we have competitors from Canada, China, "Europe", Japan, Ghana and New Zealand...shouldn't it be the International Spelling Bee?

  4. Anonymous10:45 AM

    It's like the US Open in golf or tennis.  Or, for that matter, the French Open or All-England. 

  5. BeeFan10:46 AM

    Sorry, that was me, back for the Bee.

  6. Marsha11:20 AM

    Woohoo! Bee week! All productivity will now cease.

  7. Gleemonex11:36 AM

    Go, Uncle Spike! I'm so glad you're back in the mix after the Late Unpleasantness. :-) I'll forever remember you as Scoot, pretty much the greatest thing about my one and only trip to the Nat'l Bee. 

  8. Charles12:53 PM

    Uncle Spike, what else is in the Spellers' Hall of Fame? I would love to see that!

  9. lisased1:58 PM

    I'm sharing an office this year, so I won't be able to listen in real time. Sigh.

  10. Then it should be an "open" Bee.  Not a "National" Bee.  "National" implies of one nation, which this clearly is not.

  11. Marsha5:00 PM

    This is why G-d made headphones. And sick days.

  12. Samir Patel6:46 PM

    There once was a National Spelling Bee
    with a pronouncer named Dr. Bailly
    It was quite a good show
    And the masses followed
    On a liveblog elucubrated by we!

    ... okay, so that last line is fodder for the Friday Grammar rodeo.  Sue me, I was never good at poetry, and I had to get it to rhyme.  [I get bonus points for using Dr. Bailly's winning word, right?]  

  13. Samir Patel6:47 PM

    One of my friends is holding a graduation party Thursday night.  The look on his face when I told him "sorry, can't come, liveblogging the spelling bee" was CLASSIC.

  14. Any decent graduation party will run much later than the Bee.  

  15. lisased9:10 PM

    Digging out the headphones now, and hoping the office mate doesn't jump too much when I cheer out of the blue.

  16. Uncle Spike9:14 PM

    There are also banners for every winner dating back to 1969. And there are displays with factoids, pictures, quotes, and other paraphernalia for every year of the bee since its inception in 1925. Super cool to see. The banners are gargantuan and really impressive. It's really, really cool to look back on history and see how the bee has evolved. I would not be surprised if there are plans to improve this area (actually called Hall of Champions, now that I remember it). I mean, c'mon...now they're talking an international spelling bee? That's ambitious.

  17. Uncle Spike9:26 PM

    <span>Thanks! Totally agreed, Cat. :-) Also, yes...very happy to be on good graces again. Things are totally copacetic now.</span>

  18. Uncle Spike9:31 PM

    Oh...and as for that poem? More like a prayer. Here it is...along with some personal reflection from the events of today: http://misplacedapostrophes.blogspot.com/2012/05/alexs-prayer.html

  19. Marsha9:32 PM

    My staff is used to it, after all these years....

  20. Roger9:50 PM

    Marsha, we'll have to set up a law-school Bee viewing party next year.

  21. Marsha3:29 PM