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!

6 of 6 people learned something from this entry.

  1. Marcy said,

    May 6, 2009 at 8:20 am

    (Learned something new!)

    WOW! You’re so awesome! If you haven’t already seen it, I highly recommend the movie “Spellbound” about the kid’s national spelling bee.

  2. Michelle said,

    May 6, 2009 at 8:31 am

    (Learned something new!)

    I had no idea there was such a thing as a national spelling bee for adults till I read your posts! Sounds like fun in theory, though I might go and take it too seriously and let preparing for it take over my life. Anyway, this wasn’t really a good year to be flying out to California. ;)

    Congrats on being runner-up – that’s great! :)

  3. Terran said,

    May 6, 2009 at 11:25 am

    (Learned something new!)

    abomasum (the fourth stomach of a ruminant)

    Ah, the source of rennet! A valuable word, if only I can remember it…

  4. Evan Dorn said,

    May 6, 2009 at 11:29 pm

    (Learned something new!)

    That rocks – just flat-out rocks. Congratulations on your fab finish (the deuteragonist of the competition?), sounds like a wonderful time was had.

  5. Heuristics Inc. said,

    May 7, 2009 at 10:37 am

    (Learned something new!)

    Congrats! That’s very exciting. You’re famous and all suchlike!
    I had no idea this existed either. Also recommend the Spellbound film, it was quite good.

  6. Katie said,

    May 7, 2009 at 6:56 pm

    (Learned something new!)

    The something new I learned was ‘salmagundi’. Congratulations on making it to the final round! Nice job!

  7. What I Learned Today » Blog Archive » More words I didn’t know said,

    May 9, 2009 at 12:25 pm

    […] the process of reviewing some helpfully provided word lists, in preparation for the spelling bee, I encountered some new words (a nice side effect!). Here they […]

  8. What I Learned Today » Blog Archive » The adult spelling bee said,

    April 17, 2011 at 10:30 pm

    […] Last time I made it to round 18 before failing to spell “latkes”. This year I managed to spell the following correctly: […]

  9. What I Learned Today » Blog Archive » I won the National Adult Spelling Bee! said,

    March 18, 2017 at 8:45 am

    […] 2009, I signed up for the National Adult Spelling Bee (in Long Beach), and I managed to come in second place. It was great fun! I went back in 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014. Each time I did reasonably well, but […]

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