Spelling bee: Intensity makes it the experience of a lifetime (+quiz)
The buzz of excitement around the National Spelling Bee also captures contestants from past years, who recall the discipline of preparing and the intensity of competition as life lessons.
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The competition, which started off Wednesday with a preliminary, computerized round, ran through two more rounds Thursday before the elimination semi-final and final.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Bee-dazzled: the 2012 National Spelling Bee
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While most participants this year were between the ages of 12 and 14, Lori Anne Madison was this year’s outlier: The 6-year-old from Lake Ridge, Va., was the youngest participant in the bee’s history and – with a precociously outsized personality – attracted an outsized portion of the media’s attention.
Ms. Madison, who correctly spelled “dirigible” (a type of blimp) before being tripped up in Round 3 on the word “ingluvies” (a part of a bird’s anatomy), told reporters earlier that previous competitors didn’t know how easy they had it.
“The words were much easier back then, someone won on ‘therapy,’ ” she said giggling. “I could’ve won in those times, double time, but now they’ve made them much harder.”
It took Wendy Guey Lai four years of competing before she won in 1996 by spelling “vivsepulture” (the act of burying someone alive) correctly. She says her father, a Taiwanese immigrant, was a lifelong student of the English language, and she regularly read his English grammar books as she prepared for competitions.
“I learned to stop viewing it only as a competition. It’s a process, my dad would say, that it’s not about whether you win or not,” says Ms. Lai, now a math teacher in the Boston public schools. “It’s about all this knowledge that you gain in the process: the process that you engage in to prepare for a competition. You try to develop yourself to the fullest, learn as much as you can, learning that as a young kid is so important, that it’s not the end result that’s important, but the journey there.”
Lai’s spelling prowess hasn’t improved her Scrabble game either, though she says it has made her hyperaware of misspelling or mispronouncing words, like sherbert instead of sherbet, or libary instead of library.
“You definitely want to correct people on it, but then you think, hmm, is it worth it? I don’t want to be super aggravating, but it is something that I’ll notice,” she says.
According to contest organizers, words topping lists of favorites for this year’s participants include cwm, (a Welsh word for valley), serendipity (the faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for), as well as humuhumunukunukuapuaa.