Your word is…

February 27, 2008

Justin Story

Community Education’s Spell-a-Bration, held last night at the Knights of Columbus Hall, provided my two teammates and I with plenty of entertainment one doesn’t normally associate with spelling bees.

Maybe it was the costumes that most of the 23 participating teams – and their ardent supporters – wore that made the event less of a test of nerves and intellect and more of a scene from the old game show “Let’s Make A Deal”, but the Spell-a-Bration ranks up there among my favorite spelling bees in which I’ve participated.

Yes, I spent my awkward teenage years on the spelling bee circuit, reaching the pinnacle with a 21st place finish in the 1994 National Spelling Bee. So, finding myself on stage reciting letters before a judge and a rapt audience very nearly constitutes my natural habitat.

You may ask whether the Daily News hired me simply for use as a ringer for this year’s Spell-a-Bration.

The answer, in a word: no.

I’m fairly certain no one on our team (City Editor Wes Swietek, Business reporter Ameerah Cetawayo and myself) studied very much beforehand, and we didn’t win, which I see as the purpose of a ringer.

Instead, The Headliners finished in third place, knocked out by a National Spelling Bee-caliber word:


Honestly, when the other teams were taking their turns at the microphone, we were mostly incredulous that they were getting words we believed were easy.

So, I suppose it was only fitting that we were tripped up by a word we were hearing for the first time in our lives.

That word, again, being graupel:

graupel, a noun meaning a kind of precipitation consisting of brittle, white ice particles having a snowlike structure; soft hail.

Webster’s New World Collegiate Dictionary, Fourth Edition

Seriously, graupel.

I could watch the Weather Channel for the rest of my life and never come across a meteorologist issuing a graupel advisory.

In all, though, many thanks to Community Education and Hills Pet Nutrition for allowing us to take part in what proved to be a fun event that if not for the costumes, would have been way more intense.

In case you’re curious, the word that knocked me out in the National Spelling Bee was fauldstool – excuse me, faldstool.