Spelling Bee Stings

Posted on June 16, 2011


Did you watch any of the national Scripps Spelling Bee last week on ESPN?  Congratulations to Sukanya Roy who sealed the victory by correctly spelling “Cymotrichous”.   News of the victory spread quickly among excited teenagers as they texted each other the news:

wassup, playa, U heer bout Speling Be champyon?

Fo shizzle, mine laydee Sukanya be havin sum mad spilling skillz ya’all

Once again, congratulations to Sukanya who deserves every bit of recognition when she returns home and her middle school throws her a congratulatory assembly wherein all the kids clap and whisper to each other, “What’s a spelling bee?”

Don’t worry Sukanya if your peers aren’t impressed–you can always enjoy the company of past spelling bee winners:

2011 Sukanya Roy
2010 Anamika Veeramani
2009 Kavya Shivashankar
2008 Sameer Mishra

Do you see any pattern here?  Are Indian-Americans motivated to conquer the world of spelling as ironic revenge for our inability to spell their names?

Contestants celebrating making it to the final round. Well done Sriram, Sukanya, and Arvind. I can't see the face of the girl with her back turned, but I'm pretty sure her name isn't Katelyn.

The 2007 winner was Evan M. O’Dorney, but I assume his name was misspelled on the spelling bee website and should actually read Evanishram O’Dorankar.

Indian-Americans get too much credit for good study habits because most people don’t understand dedication to good spelling among Indians is a cultural byproduct of Hinduism and the Bhagavad Gita story where Shiva the Destroyer burns the earth, but spares all the best spellers.

After her victory, Sukanya was interviewed by national media who asked if she would watch replays of her victory on television, and Sukanya replied, “What’s a television?”  She had similar responses when asked about sports, hobbies, and sunshine.

This was the first spelling bee I’ve been able to watch in twenty years because the memories of spelling bees past are just too painful.  I won the third grade spelling bee, but third graders didn’t go on to compete for the school title.  I won the fourth grade spelling  bee and became the first fourth grader to go on to win the school wide contest.  I won again in fifth grade, but I lost in sixth on the very first word of the school wide spelling bee.  I arrived late, rushed to take my seat on the stage, and because they were waiting for me before they could start, I was the first one up, and I completely froze.  I had no time to mentally prepare, and in the rush and embarrassment of arriving late my mind went completely blank on an extremely easy word, one of the easy, easy words they give at the beginning so no dads will get angry they missed work just to see their kid go out in the first round.

I always dreamed of going on to nationals some day, but eligibility for our district didn’t start until seventh grade.  When the date of the seventh grade spelling bee arrived, I decided not to compete, and I’ve never spelled competitively again.  As a matter of fact, when my wife asks me to spell something for her, I always spell it incorrectly on porpoise.

Here’s a bit of trivia for you: people always ask why they are called spelling bees.  The name derives from the first spelling competition held in Massachusetts in 1698 when twenty contestants competed for the first prize of a barrel of honey.  Contestants finishing in places two through twenty received no prizes but rather death by bee stings.  The contest did not receive any applicants in 1699, 1700, 1701, 0r 1702, and it wasn’t until 1703 when the bee sting punishment was eliminated that the competition took off.

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