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.

0 of 1 people learned something from this entry.

  1. Susan said,

    April 30, 2009 at 2:18 am

    (Knew it already.)

    Man, there are HUGE differences amongst spelling a word on paper, recognizing when a word on paper is misspelled, and spelling verbally. I simply can’t do the last, or perhaps better said, my verbal spelling skills are very poor despite the fact that I’m actually a very good written speller. I think that in middle school I actually died on “balloon.” I missed a double letter. I think.

    Heh, I actually thought there was another “m” in tremolo. That’s a word that actually relates to my life :). There OUGHT to be another “m,” damnit.

  2. wkiri said,

    April 30, 2009 at 1:16 pm

    Is there a difference between tremolo and vibrato?

  3. Susan said,

    May 1, 2009 at 1:55 am

    Heh. Vibrato is a a sort of microtone (which I don’t know is a word) variation. On a stringed instrument, you accomplish it by wiggling your finger slightly but rapidly while you bow. It accomplishes a richer tone, but you don’t really notice it as different notes as you listen because the variation is minuscule.

    A tremolo is a much more dramatic effect that you get from rapidly alternating between the note one half-step up or half-step down.

    Vibrato is something that in most orchestral music you’re supposed to be doing all the time for longer notes because it makes them sound prettier. If a player isn’t doing it, a listener may notice that the music is “flat,” not in tone but in affect. (Gah, talking about music is so imprecise.) Tremolo is used infrequently when the composer wants a specific effect.

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