Oxon Hill — If my spellcheck is to be believed, the Scripps National Spelling Bee that just concluded consisted of a group of very talented, dedicated kids… spelling completely made-up nonsense words for several hours.
The 2013 Scripps National Spelling Bee finals have come to a close, after more than two hours of knock-down, drag-out spelling. The confetti still strews the stage.
The winner? Bayside Hills’ Arvind Mahankali. The winning word? Knaidel. It’s a noun. It means “a small mass of leavened dough cooked by boiling or steaming.”
But type it, and a red line appears underneath it.
In fact, that was a theme of the evening. Nearly every time one of the indefatigable 11 finalists, the creme de la spelling creme of the 281 hopefuls who came to Washington to compete in the bee, would spell a word, Microsoft Word would insist that the word did not exist.
Of the 57 words in the finals, spell check was adamant that 48 were not actual words.
“Nope,” it would say when you typed in the name of a small boat for catching tuna (thonnier) or a Hebrew word for a place of destruction (Abaddon), or a word meaning hazel-colored (avellaneous). There were whole hosts of remarkable words that had come from centuries away — medieval reed instruments, bugle calls, chests of drawers, even a word of Greek origin meaning “hatred of new ideas” — misocainea — being turned away at the door by the officious, reproachful red line. Lethean, a mythological term meaning conducive to forgetfulness? Forget about it.
When Sriram Hathwar went out on “ptyalagogue,” a word that means “something that makes you salivate” Rembert Browne jokingly tweeted “No shame in that Sriram, ‘ptyalagogue’ isn’t even a word, which is probably why you got it wrong, because they gave you a made up word.” Which is funny, and, yes, we probably aren’t going to make ‘ptyalagogue’ happen, if our success with ‘fetch’ is any indication, but — if we are trusting the devices we use to write on, it actually doesn’t appear to be a real word. And it is. And it’s actually a cool word that could come in handy, if only more people knew about it.
Words are like paths from one idea to another. If you keep making a certain connection, eventually desire creates a trail. “YOLO” and “we wish there were a word for that it’s mind-boggling.
So thank heaven for the Spelling Bee. It’s a triumph of the human memory over the hive mind. Ray Bradbury, in “Fahrenheit 451,” thought the mind was the safest place to carry words you cared about. At the Spelling Bee, it looks like he’s right.