Spell It Like You Mean It with Grammar Punk

Now they don’t just have to spell it they have to know what it means?!

A hobbledehoy is “a raw, awkward youth.” The word is very old, originating in the 16th century. The first syllable hob probably refers to “a hobgoblin, sprite, or elf,”
while dehoy may come from the Middle French de haye, “worthless, untamed, wild.”

It’s no longer good enough to spell six-syllable words — kids who hope to advance to the semifinals and finals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee also must know what the head-scratchers mean.

The organizers of the annual event announced Tuesday that competitors will take multiple-choice definition quizzes that will make up 50 percent of the score that determines who goes to the last rounds.

The bee’s executive director, Paige Kimble, doesn’t think the new system is a game-changer, arguing that most good spellers are up on definitions, too. “My sense is that many of our champions knew exactly what they word meant before they spelled it.” Hmmm, I guess we’ll see, won’t we.

While I agree with this premise—at least on the surface—I have to wonder how much this new rule may indeed change things and just how much rote memorization plays a part if spelling bees. Having said that, I love the idea. Spelling without defining feels a little like diagramming sentences, it’s not a terrible idea; it just doesn’t have the same impact as knowing what an adjective is because you’ve assigned the perfect one to a specific noun in a sentence of your own creation.

I love a good spelling bee and have always counted myself among the upper-middle tier of spellers, my only criticism lying in the fact that the constant search for that obscurely arcane word that contains as many letters as humanly possibly can get in the way of the sheer bumptious fun of words. Then again pretty much anything to do with words of all shapes, sizes, and functions is all right with me.

A few interesting bits of trivia about this year’s Scripps National Spelling Bee which happens on May 29-30:  This year’s group of competitors is 52% girls and 48% boys.  The spellers’ favorite words include conquistador, flibbertigibbet, humuhumunukunukuapuaa, physiognomy, weissnichtwo and gobbledegook.  Among this year’s field, math is most frequently cited as a favorite subject. Math? Seriously! Ah well, a subject for another day.