April 27, 2017
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Spellbound: There’s more to spelling than P’s and Q’s

Ruminations from ‘Elizabeth Snyder, Judge’



Absolute power can be intoxicating. And frightening.

As one of the Kenosha Rotary Club volunteers who served as a judge and word pronouncer Monday night at Kenosha Unified School District’s middle school spelling bee, I was told — right there in the official rules — that judges “are in complete control of the competition and their decision is final on all questions.”

Luckily, we didn’t have to render any controversial rulings over the more than three hours that students spelled words like pertinacity, castellated, ague and spelt.

Yes, spelt. It’s a word; look it up.

Spelling bees are a combination of smarts and stamina, not to mention a showcase of some rarely heard words (moiety, anyone?). But spelling bees are more than just a test to see if you know how to spell arpeggio


Spelling bees offer life lessons that are useful to everyone:

Get it right!

In spelling, as in life itself — despite what you may have heard from the White House recently — there are no such things as “alternative facts.” If you miss a letter, you’re out.

Never let them see you sweat.

One of the contestants was cool under pressure and spelled each word slowly and clearly. But afterward, she told me, “I was so nervous up there!”

Slow down.

It’s crucial not to rush and miss something important

(like the third “r” in “preferred.” That word knocked me out of a spelling bee in seventh grade.)

Mind your “P’s” and “Q’s”...

And especially make sure the judges can tell your “T’s” from your “D’s” or “G’s.”

Don’t be afraid to ask for directions.

Or, in the case of spelling bees, to ask for more information when necessary. The spellers who asked for the definition of a word or its origin lasted longer in the competition.

Let people help you.

As a pronouncer, I kept eye contact with the spellers and tried to will them to spell the word correctly. I also tried to tell them — with my eyes — “ask me to use it in a sentence” when I sensed they were hesitating.

Look out for Scandinavians.

Or, more precisely, Scandinavian words! The spelling bee word list gives a word’s origin — from Latin, French, English, Greek — but the words with Scandinavian roots are invariably the most difficult to spell.

Stand up straight.

It might not help you spell better, but you’ll look and feel more confident, which never hurts.

Find your own system.

Some of the kids shut their eyes while spelling. Others stared straight ahead. A few even “wrote” the word on their palms to help them visualize the letters. Whatever works.

Speak up!

We had one speller who spoke into his hoodie, which was particularly difficult on words like “precursor,” which is difficult enough without having to strain to hear the letters.

Finally, accept that spelling — and life — aren’t fair.

When the kid ahead of you is asked to spell “shell,” you may get a word like “ecclesiastical.” Or “thaumaturge.” Sorry; we judges have to follow the official set of words.

And thanks for the sticker that says “Elizabeth Snyder, Judge.”

I’m sure this will come in handy at family gatherings.

Have a comment? Email Liz at esnyder@kenoshanews.com or call her at 262-656-6271.*****************************************

Sidebar: Top spellers

Hannah Ghouse — a seventh-grader at KTEC West — won the KUSD middle school spelling bee Monday night.

The other finalists — who all move on to the CESA No. 1 Regional Spelling Bee Feb. 17 in Pewaukee — are Sophia Steinke (sixth grade, KTEC-West), Brianna Hund (seventh grade, Mahone), Sruthi Sitamraju (sixth grade, KTEC-East), Smrithi Sreedha (seventh grade, KTEC-East) and Sanya Patel (eighth grade, KTEC-East). Claudia Santos (eighth grade, Mahone) is the alternate.

The champion from each of the five regional bees will advance to the Badger State Spelling Bee in Madison.

Sidebar: It’s elementary

Josiah Mathews, a fifth-grader at KTEC-East, won the elementary school spelling bee at Mahone Middle School Tuesday.

Other top finishers are: Asher Compton (grade four, Somers), Gianna Fleming (grade five, Roosevelt), Isabella Menore (grade four, Nash) and Vinny Teschler (grade five, Forest Park).

The finalists now all move on to the regional spelling bee.


Sidebar: The Buck stops here

At least we know who to blame for the Green Bay Packers defeat Sunday afternoon:

Joe Buck.

Oh, you didn’t know about that ridiculous online petition demanding that Fox not allow Buck and Troy Aikman to call the action on the field for Packers games?

Apparently, some fans believe Aikman — a former Dallas Cowboys quarterback — and Buck can’t be fair when working a Packers game for the network.

Of course, this is silly, but it’s easier than wondering how the team’s defense gave up 44 points to the Atlanta Falcons and the offense played dead for three quarters.

On the bright side, lots of Packers fans also cheer for the Chicago Cubs, and spring training starts in just a few weeks. Play ball!


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