Spelling always has been important to me. I wanted good grades on elementary school spelling tests and to look smart when writing research papers or articles and columns for student newspapers in high school and college.
I always have a well-used, dog-eared dictionary handy at home and on my desk at work.
I like spell-check because it highlights possible spelling errors, but I don’t always trust it. Too often, it provides choices other than the word I want or it splits in two some common one-word words we use in the Hub, such as groundwater and flowmeter.
Even when I know how to spell words, I use a paper or online dictionary to check definitions to be sure I’m using words correctly. It helps that I use words most people know and understand.
I’m a sight speller. I usually can look at a word and know if it looks right or wrong.
I’m not a good "air" speller. If someone in the newsroom asks how to spell something, I usually write the word before spelling it out loud.
It’s among the reasons I never liked spelling bees.
At the highest competition levels, winners are the kids who memorize the most obscure words they likely will never use again. My brain already is packed with too much useless information.
The 92nd Scripps National Spelling Bee is next week in Fort Washington, Md., with the final rounds considered to be close enough to a sport to be broadcast on ESPN. I won’t be watching.
However, I learned a few interesting things about the event from a story written by a past national champion for the May edition of Smithsonian magazine.
Rebecca Sealfon wrote that her first run toward spelling bee greatness was in 1996 at age 12. That effort ended after seven rounds in the national spelling bee, when she misspelled "eyrthema" (skin redness).
She was determined to do better in 1997. "I rose before dawn every day to work on memorizing the entire dictionary," Sealfon wrote.
"Why would anyone want to do that?" I thought as I read her story. I don’t remember exactly what I was doing as a 13-year-old, but I’m sure it was something more fun and useful.
The 1997 national spelling bee came down to Sealfon, representing New York City, and a New Jersey speller. Sealfon won.
She credits the event with teaching her discipline and giving her a sense of accomplishment. Both were valuable in her later endeavors, including software engineering.
"I’m relieved to have no more to gain from competitive spelling. But all that childhood practice means I hardly ever make a typo," she said to end her story.
Sealfon doesn’t say how many of the words she memorized from the dictionary and spelled out loud on a contest stage she ever used again.
A "How to Win a Spelling Bee" graphic below her story has data from the history of the Scripps National Spelling Bee:
Most winners have been ages 13 or 14. The youngest was 11.
Kids train for almost 500 hours ahead of a national competition. I wonder how many look back now as adults and think, "Those were 500 hours of my childhood I’m never getting back."
They studied on their own 60 percent of the time, but some hired past competitors as coaches.
To relax, they played word games.
The graphic’s subhead is, "Eight Secrets of Championship Orthography."
Orthography is a noun meaning "spelling." I know because I looked it up in my dog-eared dictionary.
Lori Potter is a Hub staff writer.