The night saw me and several friends enjoy a performance of "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" at the Rosewater Theatre. (The musical runs weekends through June 26 for anyone interested.) But it wasn't until earlier that day that I realized the night I chose to see the play fell on the same night as the finals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C. -- I had made my plans several weeks in advance and did not know then.
By the way, the Bee also features spellers from countries other than the United States, so one has to wonder why it hasn't been renamed the Scripps International Spelling Bee.
At any rate, in case you were away from your TV Friday night, the contest's finals were televised live on ABC (and why the network airs it instead of a rerun of "Dancing with the Desperate Bachelorette: Home Edition," I'll never know). Though I doubt I would have cleared my Friday night plans with friends to watch the Bee on live TV, the show would likely have been pretty entertaining had I watched it while following the humorous tweets of comedians Randy and Jason Sklar -- I've heard the two's riffs on previous Bees on their former ESPN Classic show "Cheap Seats," which is still in reruns on the channel.
What is seemingly less funny about the Bee is that this year's event had protesters outside it. The four peaceful objectors, according to the Associated Press, represented the American Literacy Council and the London-based Spelling Society. Their message: We need to simplify the way we spell words.
To the contest picketers, "fruit" should be "froot," "slow" should be "slo," and "heifer" -- a word one competitor aced during the Bee's first oral round -- should be "hefer."
Overhauling an entire language would be an intellectually Herculean task, and I think there's a much bigger problem that this annual competition underscores -- why do we quiz these children with so many obscure and esoteric words when there has to be thousands of conventional ones that are still tough to spell?
Why should words like "rhabdomyoma" (dictionary.com says it means "a benign tumor made up of striated muscular tissue") and "leguleian" (lawyerlike; legal) face spellers when so many students and even adults can't get straight the correct usages of there, their and they're?
I only wish the one unforgotten spelling bee memory I still hold came at the hands of a word of such high caliber. Like so many young spellers and former bee participants, I still remember missing what should have been an easy word. It was sixth grade -- the Alabama state spelling bee. Admittedly, I got to go because I was my school's runner-up and the school winner couldn't attend.
I was eliminated early on the word "burglar." A simple word, yes. But come on! Someone who cobbles is a cobblER. A person who whistles is a whistlER. One who drives is a drivER. But someone who burgles is a burglAR? Who came up with that spelling?!?
OK, so maybe those protesters have a point.
Another problem I have with the National Spelling Bee, and pretty much every spelling bee, is that one major rule -- a speller can start spelling a word, and start over if he/she needs to, but if they make just one change to the letters already said, they automatically miss the word.
What anal-retentive perfectionist created this rule? Is it really wrong to allow children to make a mistake but go back and correct it before submitting their final answer? Mistakes are human nature, but giving someone no chance to correct their errors is not. That's why pencils have erasers, keyboards backspace keys and word processors spell check.
That reminds me -- I better run my spell check an extra time or two. I don't want to be stuck with spelling homework this weekend.
-- Jon Gargis is the education reporter for The Daily Tribune News.