Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Orthographic Apis mellifera.

(Excuse the title, but how could I have resisted?)

On Friday evenings, a certain person I know likes to eat Thai take-out and watch Swiss Family Robinson. Another heads for the gym to lift three times his body weight. One dear friend celebrates the end of each work week by eating alone at a Romanian restaurant.
I go to the Spelling Bee.
Admittedly, I am unable to go to a spelling bee every Friday night. Only once a year* do I manage this feat. But I love it, and neither death nor disease nor ice storms (and we have had plenty of all three) can keep me from spending an evening testing my spelling chops against the teams on stage, they with the Painfully Punned Names (The Bee-spoke team; the Bee-lievers; the Wordy Women; the Spellbinders; the Bee Train: You get the idea.)
And yes, CSB loves the spelling bee as much as I do, though he declines to test his orthographic skills – even though the program provides a blank page for this very exercise.
As for my orthographic skills…there is room for improvement.
For instance, the word was Gnathonic, with a silent G. The enunciator pronounced it and defined it (Fawning or flattering. After Gnatho, sycophant in Terence's play Eunuchus.) and some atavistic linguistic memory told me that the first letter was silent. But I guessed it was P, as in Pneumonia. I was wrong. It was G, as in gnome. Now I can only wait patiently for the perfect occasion to use gnathonic.
Another treasure I came home with was erythropsia, the condition of seeing everything as red. I have since discovered that erythropsia is not the only possible chromatopsia. If you see everything as yellow you are experiencing xanthopsia. If your eyeballs are yellow, you have jaundice. Cyanopsia is blue vision, and it is not curable.
There was exactly one word that not a single team on stage spelled correctly, but I did: Clerihew. And why was this? Because I actually know what a Clerihew is, because my friend Helen Barolini explained it to all of us in Literature Club, and because our Literature Club sponsored a clerihew contest. One person in Britain submitted over 90 clerihews, and I am sorry to say that most of them were quite unfortunate.
I was so delighted with this turn of events that I almost had to say something. CSB would have found this painfully embarrassing, and so I did not.

There has been much fractious discussion about the spelling of eleemosynary. The enunciator said it was spelled: eleeymosynary, with that additional Y. But I think he was wrong. It is hard enough to spell eleemosynary without putting in an extra Y.

* A fundraiser for the Irvington Library, held in January at the Irvington Town Hall. Full disclosure: Let it Bee Local Honey advertises in the program.

1 comment:

Anne said...

Ah, eleemosynary. Such a wonderful word--first truly encountered by me in Walter Berns' class on Constitutional Law, specifically the discussion of the Supreme Court case Trustees of Dartmouth College v. Woodward 1819--so few opportunities to use it. I have never seen it with a third "y," however....some attempt at a closer approximation to the Greek?