The Many Ways of Covering a Spelling Bee

Catching the end of last night’s Scripps-Howard National Spelling Bee was great fun, not only because our friend Jacques Bailly (ahem, Dr. Jacques A. Bailly) serves as the event’s pronouncer and has a knack for creating kooky sentences. The children were simply amazing. How many of us viewers would have had the gumption at age 12 to get up on TV and try to spell words such as “lekane” (my OED says it’s a “small shallow bowl”)?

Not quite as interesting as last night’s white-knuckled competition but still worth considering is how the National Spelling Bee is covered by the press. There’s the typical winner story (“PA Girl Survives 5-Speller Standoff“) but also a new crop of articles seemingly designed to produce a gaping sense of inferiority among adults: the “how would YOU do?” story.

Canada’s CBC lays it out fairly plainly: “Spelling Bee: How Far Would You Have Gotten?” Really? They need to ask? The country is populated by adults relying on auto-correct and spell check to get through the day. Fear and loathing will always draw in a certain number of readers — fear that you (yes, you who needed auto-correct to spell “misspell” correctly) are definitely not smarter than a fifth grader. And loathing, of course, goes hand-in-hand with that.

But if you want to read an article that won’t play on your insecurities, check out the New Yorker’s take on it. From the type of words (terms for foods the kids have probably never eaten) to thoughts on ESPN’s inane commentary, it provides a slightly more refreshing (and less neurotic) read.


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