Friday, March 19, 2010

Going off the grid: finding the right lexical mix

Every time we hold a spelling bee, we are faced with the task of blending the words in such a way that everyone has both challenge and fun.  This is harder than it sounds, because people play in the Bee for a variety of reasons: some play purely to give back to the Library and the community, some enter the Bee because they love words, some people (very, very few) are bullied and badgered by their friends on the Bee Committee, and some poor souls seem to play out of sheer masochism....Whatever brings a team to the Bee, our task is to send them home satisfied, if not completely overjoyed.

Over the years we have heard a lot of feedback about the word list. Many people think it is just too daunting to be responsible for a 900+ word list (AHEM!  As the person who puts together the list, I have no pity for you);  some are determined to memorize every single word. It has begun to look like the Bee should scale back its dedication to the word list, and wade in unchartered waters for a bit.

We have always reserved the right to go "off the grid" for new words, and have done so at least twice in the past (most memorably last year, when we had to call an emergency intermission to look up more words in the dictionary).  This year, we are trying something new: after 10 words, we WILL go "off the grid" and into what MC George Doherty euphemistically refers to as the "expansion round". 

What can you expect from the Expansion Round?  Well, first of all, if you make it there you can smile and take a big, deep bow.  You have crushed the list, at least for the moment.  (Savor that, while you can.)  George will then regale you with some off-the-list words, many of which you should recognize and may use in everyday speech.  For example, I recently removed the word "colicky" from an Expansion Round list.  Chances are you know what "colicky" means; chances are pretty good that someone you know well was colicky at some point in his or her young life.  But when you are basking in the glow of having made it through the preliminary round, you are going to hear the word "colicky" and start thinking to yourself, "Oh, no--is that one 'l' or two? A 'ck' or just a 'c'?" And you will begin to fret.  Yes, you will.

My goal for the beginning of the Expansion Rounds is that you will recognize the words and be very familiar with them...and maybe not so sure of how they are spelled.  Of course, given the fact that Dover has some of the best spellers in the Commonwealth, I'm going to have to ramp it up for you pretty quickly.  Soon you will be faced with words you might not know...or maybe with some words from the list that you might have neglected to study.  Once you get past the preliminary round, anything goes. 

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