Tuesday, May 26, 2015

PAMPOOTIE:  Right now in National Harbor, Maryland, 285 incredibly talented children are sitting down for a four-part spelling and vocabulary test which will help determine their fates at the 2015 Scripps National Spelling Bee, and for the 13th year* we will be trying to cover all of the joy, agita, and triumph. If you're not a regular here, welcome aboard; if you only come here this one week per-year, welcome back.

For newcomers trying to get their bearings, here's a short list of things we do and don't like about The Bee:

  • Smart kids being awesome. Smart kids being awesome.
  • That part late in the Bee when we get to words of Finnish, Mayan, Welsh, Afrikaans, and Egyptian origins.
  • Jamaican and Canadian spellers, except the 2008 Canadian Bloodbath round which was really unfortunate.**
  • Foodie words, because it's the only time in the competition many grownups feel smart.
  • Dr. Jacques Bailly 
  • Sardoodledom.
  • When Bee veterans, coaches, and parents come here and share their wisdom and experience. If you go back to our archives for the last week of May, every year, you'll find some great stuff.
Don't Like
  • Use of computerized competition to impose artificial elimination checkpoints for tv purposes, especially in the cutoff from Thursday afternoon to Thursday night.
  • Interviewing kids in the middle of the competition
  • Interviewing kids right after they've been eliminated
  • Cutesy filler pieces which demean how hard these kids work
  • The fact that the bulk of the first hour of primetime will be dominated by filler, and not spelling.
  • Yiddish words capable of multiple correct spellings (otherwise known as The Marsha Special), and capable of igniting Bee controversy.
  • Amateur psychoanalysis of the kids and their parents. As I've written before, which is as close to a mission statement as we've got:
"What we won't do 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."
Or, as Shonda explained in 2013: "What I love about the Bee is its celebration of intelligence.  The Bee at its best is a dance party for braininess, a nerdgasm for smarty-pants. The Bee is home for those of us who maybe can not throw a ball or run without our inhalers. The Bee is a place for people who like to read, who enjoy math, who love science and art and geography and words, words, words.  The Bee is for people who have plans that do not include being a Real Housewife of Anything. The Bee is the only way our people will ever be on ESPN. And that makes the Bee awesome. The Bee is a celebration."

Come celebrate with us this week.

* Yes, still blogging after all these years. I kinda feel like we're the last people using rotary phones, dot-matrix printers and WordPerfect.

** Described here as, by various commenters, "The worst Canadian disaster since Glass Tiger broke up," "the worst Canadian disaster since Thicke of the Night," "must be like what it was like when the Quebec Nordiques and Winnipeg Jets left the country," "like when Neil Young moved to Topanga Canyon," "like when Vince Carter started mailing it in so that he could get traded to New Jersey," "like Eric Lindros insisting to the Nordiques that he wanted to play for the Flyers," and "the worst day for ONttN this year, even more so than Steven Page's leaving Barenaked Ladies."


  1. The Pathetic Earthling8:17 AM

    An oldie but a goody:


  2. Marsha8:30 AM

    One more thing we do not like: showing the fainting video, especially for laughs. This is a child, and it was scary. It was in no way funny, and never will be.

  3. bristlesage9:32 AM

    The most wonderful time of the yeeeeaaaarrrr!

  4. Amber Born9:46 AM

    I got the list of round 1 spelling words from someone and it seems pretty difficult (that might just be because I haven't studied in a while, but I don't think so).

  5. Christy in Philly9:54 AM

    Personally, I'm a fan of blogging for this purpose. We get in-depth perspective from Bee experts and enthusiasts!

  6. Adam C.10:35 AM

    Bee Week! Of course, OF COURSE, I'm swamped at work and might not get to enjoy all of the fun as it happens, but hopefully I can at least watch the finals plausibly live.
    Coincidentally, we were just in Northern Virginia over the long weekend visiting with family, and my sister-in-law suggested that we really should all go to the Bee one of these years. Next year in National Harbor!

  7. spell1412:02 PM

    I agree with you, (I participated two years), but I feel like I got a lot more correct last year, despite the no mult choice and vocab. The vocab this year was harder (although roots helped!) and the words were much more difficult as well I think, and the multiple choice was pretty tricky, as the options were pretty well-designed, basically various ways to trick you. The one plus is that everyone got the same Round 2 and 3 vocab words.

  8. Scripps has a special podcast series leading up to the Bee this year, hosted by ESPN commentator Paul Loeffler. It's just short interviews with Bee alums and notables from the world of words (I am the titular "crossword ninja" from episode 2). Some of you Bee fanatics will enjoy! (https://soundcloud.com/spellingbee/ or search "spelling bee podcast")

  9. Adam B.12:27 PM

    Where are you seeing the lists?

  10. spell141:13 PM

    I am at the bee right now. If you want me to post the list, I would be fine. We were given the entire written test to take with us and check independently.

  11. Amber Born1:35 PM

    If you don't mind my asking, do I know you from the Bee (2010-13)?

  12. Adam B.2:00 PM

    you can email it to acbonin at hotmail dot com

  13. spell142:18 PM

    Sorry no, I only participated in 2014 and this year

  14. spell142:29 PM

    I sent it to you

  15. Amber Born4:07 PM

    Yes, everyone please listen to the podcast. Especially my episode. :)

  16. Uncle Spike4:51 PM

    I'm back at the bee again this year. Always lots of fun to see bee royalty all over the place. If I may make a suggestion...please edit Dr. Bailly's name in this post so Jacques has an "s" at the end! I know he'd appreciate it.

  17. Adam B.5:01 PM

    Harumph. Fine.

    You coaching anyone this year?

  18. Uncle Spike5:29 PM

    Yup...more than one. Strictly speaking, I have six current/former students competing this year, though I would say that I would only consider two or three of them really regular students. I'm quite happy.

  19. Uncle Spike5:46 PM

    No, I agree...the spelling written test seemed harder than I expected. Vocab was challenging but reasonable. And for those in the know, only 3 of 12 spelling words came from the Consolidated Word List...which is a surprisingly low number.

  20. BeeFan8:22 AM

    Agree with all the likes/dislikes except the Yiddish one. Yiddish words are fine. And the 2006 "controversy" was the Bee officials screwing up.

    Oh, yeah, add to the dislikes: hokey-jokey sentences