So the wine shop down the road held an ‘Adult Spelling Bee’ tonight to raise money for the local young writers’ program. My friend and I thought it sounded like fun, and it’s a great cause, so we went. She went to watch, and I went to participate.
It certainly wasn’t what I expected. To tell the truth, I’m really not sure what I expected. When we got there, I had to sign in and was given a sign with a number, like I was at an auction. Then I had to sign a release because the event was being videotaped and photographed. Once I did that and paid my ten dollars, I was officially a contestant.
There were probably two dozen people there, and only five or six spellers. At a table at the front was a pile of silly dress up items — colorful leis, headbands with deely-bobbers, flowers and halos, and flamboyant plastic sunglasses. We were invited to choose whatever accessories we liked. I chose a blue lei and fancy blue glasses.
The (male, bald) emcee was attired in a lei and a fascinator-style headband with what looked like a corsage on top. The judge was seated at the table in front with a biker hat on, and she had a service bell for signaling correct answers and sound effects from her smartphone for wrong answers. Each table was equipped with noisemakers for the audience. Fun!
After people assembled and signed in, the emcee read the rules. I don’t remember all of them, but the pertinent ones were 1) words came from the 1900 “New World” dictionary; 2) words would be read up to three times and defined; and 3) the contestant may ask etymology and may request it be used in a sentence. So far, so good. But they continued: if a contestant needed help, he may (for a price) request help from a friend or use his smart phone to look it up. Oh, and if he got the word wrong, he could petition the judge by waving money at her; for $5, the word would be (re)considered correct. The eventual winner would get a plaque and a bottle of wine. And the audience was encouraged to make a lot of noise.
I felt pretty confident going into this. After all, I had been a grade-school spelling champ. How hard could it be? I brushed up on my circa-1900 vocabulary by glancing through Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle and Nellie Bly’s Ten Days In a Mad-House on my Kindle. I figured a few words would use the British “ou” spelling for words like ‘honour’ and ‘flavour’, but the rest would be fine. I could do this.
What I didn’t count on was the wile of the officials. They were very good! The words they threw at us were so far out of my vocabulary that I was lost, almost from the beginning. Snookered!
My first word was “villanelle.’ Now, I know what it is. A villanelle is a poetry form. I confidently spelled it ‘v-i-l-l-a-n-e-l-l-e.’ I should have known when the emcee pointedly asked if I wanted him to use it in a sentence that I was on the wrong track. But I didn’t. I asked for the sentence and proceeded to, again, spell it the way I knew was right.
Uh, no. Remember, this was from the year 1900. The correct answer was ‘v-i-l-a-n-e-l-l-e.’ Way to take me down a notch! I pulled out a fiver and bribed the judge for a ‘ding.’ Fortunately, I had a glass of pinot gris in which to drown my sorrows, and I vowed that I would not be defeated. I could do this!
The atmosphere was lighthearted and fun. We were all laughing and clapping and enjoying the show. The other contestants were in the same boat as I was — they were mostly stumped, too. For an hour and a half, we took our turns having archaic words thrown at us; sometimes we were close, and sometimes we weren’t. It didn’t matter. The bribes were flying, and no matter how poorly or well we did, we got the same applause and approval.
After ‘vilanelle,’ I spelled ‘pancratium’ (wrong); ‘sciamachy’ (wrong); ‘consentient’ (right!); ‘menage’ (right!); and ‘cougar’ (right!). There were many others just as arcane. Thanks to my friend, I was able to bribe the judge a second time when I only had a couple dollars left in my pocket. (I got the benefit of the judge’s misstep at one point, when she hit the bell instead of giving me the other sound effect.) Of course, during the bee there were several words given to the other contestants that I was able to spell; many, I was not. It would be overly generous of me to say I got about half right; I think I had a far worse percentage. The sentences that they composed for each word were hilarious and did little to nothing to elucidate or enlighten. But that was all part of it.
Unfortunately, I had to leave before it was over. I would have enjoyed staying until the bitter end, even knowing that I would not be the one bringing home a plaque and bottle of wine. If you ever have the opportunity to do something fun like this, don’t pass on the chance. I was disappointed Mr. Stuck didn’t come to watch, but I might be able to convince him next time, especially if he reads this post.
Kudos to the folks at Blend for hosting and to the organizers for their hard work — it was good fun, and I would do it again.
Oh, and the “greegree” of the title is one of the words from tonight. Now you’ll have to look it up! 😉
poster credit Blend Wine Shop