Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Your Word Is "Syni-Kyni-Doty-Chody"

Last week, Adelaide finally received her spelling bee packet.

You may remember that last year, Daughter competed in- and won- her division in the spelling bee at the Iowa State Fair.  It was a wonderful experience.  She wanted to participate again this year.

As it turns out, that is easier said than done.  We heard about the whole thing last year because a kindly former teacher of Adelaide's saw the paperwork at school and thought that would be right up her alley.  This year, Adelaide started bugging me in, oh, probably December, to sign her up for the bee.  

I looked on the (really pretty good) State Fair website.  I made calls.  I left messages.  I sent emails.  And nothing.  

Derek's dad joined the search, calling around, trying to figure out just how the heck do you sign someone up for this thing?  Is there even going to be a bee this year?  What is happening?

Finally, finally, I managed to reach a helpful intern.  You should have heard me on the phone with this poor girl:  "Oh- OH!  A REAL PERSON!  Oh, thank God!  I'd like to sign our daughter up for the spelling bee please don't hang up please please help me I'm so happy to be talking to you right now."

She clearly read the despair in my voice, as she spoke in very soothing tones and said things like, "Okay, I'm emailing you the form right now.  No, I won't hang up until you see you have it.  Now just fill out it out and email it right back to me, and I'll print it out and get her entered right away.  Well, you are welcome."  

That was back in May, though, and Adelaide (and, okay, me too) was getting a bit nervous that her packet hadn't come, confirming she'd made it into the bee, as they do cap the numbers at 70 (although there were closer to 80 kids competing last year, so it would seem they're not as strict about the ONLY 70 CONTESTANTS thing as the application would have you believe).  

A few days ago, though, it came:  the letter of congratulations, exhaustive list of rules, packet of sample words, and ticket to the fair.

This picture has nothing to do with spelling bees.  I just wanted a cute picture of Daughter somewhere in here.  At the above moment, she was thrilled about having finally gotten the timing down for saying "Lumos" as her sparkler sputtered to life, then "Nox" as it died.  She is thrilled about the bee, too.

As we've been going through her packet of possible words, though, we've run into a familiar problem:  she and I both enjoy above-average vocabularies in terms of definitions, spelling, and using the words correctly, but our pronunciation is, ah... not so great.  I've gotten better as I've gotten older and been forced to interact more with actual human beings than books, but Daughter is just not there yet.  She was recently talking to Derek about something or other, and mentioned "waiting in a quay-way."  Astonishingly, he did not know what she was saying.  Eventually he did figure out she was trying to communicate the word queue, but only because he is fluent in Adelaide-ese.  (Adelaide-ese:  A dialect that uses rather advanced words, but pronounced phonetically, with the emphasis nearly always on the wrong syllable, and most mangled when the word is of french origin.  She hates franco-based words.)

Thankfully, we live in the internet age, and it's the work of seconds to pull up canny little videos instructing us on the correct pronunciation of coxswain and wokas and, my new favorite, synecdoche.

Oxford Dictionaries is a great resource for these videos, as is Emma Saying.

Sometimes, however, we need a little levity in the midst of such quizzing.  Pronunciation Manual is there for us.

Do you have any favorite words?  How about words you mispronounced for far too long?


  1. Oh em gee to that picture. Little Adelaide still exists!! Adelaide, if you're reading this, I mean that in a doting aunt way, not a patronizing way.

  2. I am a horrible speller - so prounouncing words, ugh - don't even get me started. I'd say my biggest difficulty is pronouncing people's surnames. Being of Irish decent, if a last name doesn't begin with an 'O' or a 'Mc' then I stumble around trying to figure it out. I substitute taught for a few years. Calling roll was always my sweatiest, face-flushed part of the day. Good luck Adelaide!!!

  3. Some actual French words that haven't crossed over to English are delicious to pronounce, for instance, crepuscule. pamplemousse.

    Bravo to Adelaide for taking on the challenge of being in the spelling bee.

    That second pronunciation guide is hilarious! When my oldest was in, maybe, 4th grade, she came home with a new vocabulary word, which she pronounced "DEETER-mined". She said it meant "stuck to something". It took us a while to figure out she meant "determined" which does mean having the quality of 'sticking to' a task. The word DEETERmined has entered our family's vocabulary.

    The beer Yuengling, brewed in Pennsylvania, is pronounced Ying-ling, as if it is a panda bear from China.


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