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.