Words I couldn’t spell

On a lark, I signed up last weekend for the National Adult Spelling Bee, to be held this Sunday in Long Beach. The website helpfully provides a list of words that were used in last year’s competition as well as an interactive online spelling bee with which you can practice. So far I’ve compiled a hefty list of words on which I would have failed, had I been called upon to spell them. (I note there is a difference between recognizing a word as printed and translating from the word spoken aloud to its printed form — so there are words that I could read but might not be able to spell aloud.) Let’s hope none of them make an appearance Sunday, or that I remember their proper spellings!

  • souk: an Arab marketplace or bazaar
  • escutcheon: a shield or emblem bearing a coat of arms
  • weir: a low dam built across a river to regulate its flow
  • vichyssoise: a soup made with potatoes, leeks, and cream
  • mahout: a person who tends an elephant

  • etouffee: a spicy Cajun stew made with vegetables and seafood
  • axolotl: a Mexican salamander
  • adrenergic: activated by or capable of releasing epinephrine (are you kidding me?)
  • tremolo: a wavering effect in a musical tone
  • gabion: a wirework container filled with rock, broken concrete, or other material, used to construct dams
  • … and so on…

I’m also concerned about homonyms. What if “philter” or “burgher” or “mien” comes up and it doesn’t occur to me to ask for a definition before spelling it? (Oh, whew, the rules indicate that in the case of homonyms, the pronouncer is to state which of the meanings is intended.)

I don’t actually care if I win. My goal is rather more humble: to misspell a word that I genuinely don’t know, instead of misspelling a word because of a stupid mistake, as in my fifth grade spelling bee when I was asked to spell “alcohol” and hastily began with “a-c-” and then stopped, because you can’t correct yourself. Not this time! This time, I will be slain with honor by budgerigar or gangue or rasorial or the like! If all goes well.