Back to the bee

Today I made my annual pilgrimage to the Adult Spelling Bee in Long Beach. I saw several familiar faces amongst the other competitors as I climbed onto the hot, stuffy stage and prepared to do battle with the dictionary.

The first four rounds were pretty approachable:

  1. fusty
  2. nimrod
  3. solstice
  4. homily

On the 5th round, I was given “hawkshaw,” a word I’d never heard before. I asked for a definition and was told, “a detective.” Hmm. Was it “hockshaw” or “hawkshaw”? I asked for the language of origin and got “U.S. slang.” That clinched it. I figured “hawk” (hunt) was a more likely metaphor for a detective than “hock” (sell) and went with “hawkshaw.” And it was right!

(It turns out that hawkshaw is a reference to a comic strip character named Hawkshaw the Detective.)

On the 6th round, I got “paludal.” Yeah, if you’ve heard of this word before, kudos to you! The definition is “of or relating to a swamp; marshy.” I hesitated. Was it “pa-” or “pe-“? “Pelagic” is a word that refers to the ocean, which is watery. Was that close enough to marshy? What would a “pal-” prefix mean?

I ended up going for “palludal,” which was close, but no cigar. Later I learned that “palus” is Latin for “marsh.” Well, now I know!

That round was quite brutal, and by going out at that point I tied for 6th place with many other spellers (the same place as last year!). Some interesting and challenging words from the remaining rounds (an asterisk means I would have misspelled it) were:

  • antimacassar
  • primeval
  • tetchy
  • sanguine
  • prurient
  • *maquillage
  • costive
  • reify
  • turpitude
  • basenji
  • degust
  • phalanx
  • *divagate
  • prevenient
  • contumacious — the winning word!

I’m already looking forward to next year. :)

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I knew this already. I learned something new!