Vocabulary salmagundi

On May 3, I drove down to Long Beach to enter the (a?) National Adult Spelling Bee. Many of the contestants gathered at a local coffee shop beforehand to socialize, which was fun and helped everyone relax a little. (It also made for some unusual entertainment, because in this crowd, as soon as I introduced myself, they all wanted to see if they could guess the spelling of my name. About half could.)

At 2 p.m., all 45 contestants filed into the choir seats at the Bay Shore Church, and the rounds began. The words initially were reasonably easy, then noticeably jumped in difficulty after rounds 5 and 10. I spelled words… and more words… and somehow managed to make it all the way to the final round, over two hours later, in which it was just me and a guy who’d flown in for the Bee from Arlington, Virginia!

Here are the words I was given to spell (plus 3 more I can’t recall):

  • incubate
  • analyze
  • influenza
  • septic
  • connoisseur
  • espalier
  • malefic
  • arrhythmia
  • vitriol
  • salmagundi: a new one on me! It’s a kind of French salad, but can be used metaphorically to describe a miscellaneous collection.
  • portmanteau
  • misprision: another new one for me (whee, I guessed right!). Literally, an error or mistake (or misunderstanding); in legal circles, it refers to a deliberate deception.
  • louche
  • lactiferous

And in the end, my final word was “latkes” (round 18). I probably should have known this word, but didn’t process the fact that it was plural, and guessed “latkis” (which was how it was pronounced). And then I was out! My competitor got “cumshaw” (?!) and spelled it correctly, and thereby won the Bee, quite deservedly. By that point, I’d gotten farther than I’d ever hoped, so I was thrilled anyway. They took our pictures and posted them at the Adult Spelling Bee website.

Aside from the two new words above, I also learned several words while listening to others either spell or fail to spell. These included abomasum (the fourth stomach of a ruminant), anthophilous (flower-loving, as in insects), spavin (a swelling; I thought it ended in an ‘e’ since I’ve only seen it in adjective form, spavined), petiole (stalk), colcannon (Irish dish with potatoes and cabbage), deuteragonist (second place to the protagonist), carnassial (carnivore tooth), banausic (mundane, for technical work — I am totally adopting this one for use on the job), and risorgimento (Italian movement for independence in the late 1800’s). Any of these (except deuteragonist) would likely have taken me out earlier, reminding me of the element of luck in this game!

After the Bee, I also got a chance to visit the beach, and see kite-surfing for the first time, and sample exotic Lebanese food, including raw lamb, chicken kefta, salty yogurt, a grape juice/orange blossom/pine nut concoction, and the Lebanese version of baklava (baklawe?). All in all, it was my favorite kind of day: one full of new words and new experiences!