What Have They Got that I Haven't Got?

Mad spelling skillz, that's what.

*Welcome Instapundit, readers! Glenn probably linked here so you could learn how to spell laodicean, but I'd like to think it was so you could hear how I aspired to be a porn star as a child.*

For those of you who don't know (i.e. those of you less geeky than I am), last night was the Scripps National Spelling Bee. It's the Super Bowl of the super smart. Middle-schoolers from across the country compete for the prestige of knowing how to spell words that are completely unusable in conversation, unless of course the conversation is with Noah Webster's ghost. For instance, laodicean, which apparently means lukewarm or indifferent to religion or politics, was the final word that scored the 13-year-old winner $37,500.

Because I was watching King James tear it up on the court last night, I missed the Bee. (The link, from the NYT, makes an interesting connection between LeBron and Kavya's victories.) But I did watch the semi-finals on ESPN, and noticed these kids have something else that I haven't got:

Mad-crazy-hard-to-spell names. Kavya Shivashankar (winner), Anamika Veeramani, Neetu Chandak, Sidharth Chand ... the list goes on. In fact, I think it stretches all the way to India. Reminds me of the yo' momma jokes of my youth. You know: "Yo momma's so fat name is so long the phone book has to list her in two area codes."**

I think these parents may be onto something. By giving their kids monikers that sound like they got caught in a clothes dryer on the way to their birth certificates, the kids are forced to be spelling prodigies. Half the words these kids are asked to spell are no more difficult than their own names. Case in point: champion Shivashankar and her final word laodicean.

Not surprisingly, if you read the career aspirations of these brilliant Indian Americans, er, kids, you will see a common theme. You know what they all want to be when they grow up? Neurosurgeons. You know what little white kids want to be when they grow up? Porn stars*** or criminal masterminds, at least in the case of me and The Other McCain. Unfortunately (or would it be fortunately?), neither of us suceeded, so instead we blog.

At least we can take heart in the fact that neither of us are laodicean, and that we now know what that word means and how to spell it ... thanks to a sixth-grader.

**That's right, when I was a kid, we sat around telling each other yo' momma jokes, which explains why I didn't place first in the only on-stage spelling bee I ever participated in. It was second grade, and I went out on the word "rasberry." Yes, rasberry. The silent "p" is as unecessary now as it was then. Maybe if my parents had gone with a last name like Loganquacious (Logan + loquacious, a word that fits me well, as you all know), things might have gone differently that day. Who knows, maybe I'd be a neurosurgeon right now.

***For those who didn't click the "porn star" link. Good for you. As a reward, I'll re-post the story here:

Confessions of a child wannabe porn star.

As a small child, my family used to drive past a giant billboard bearing (and baring) a pretty blonde girl. I didn’t know what she was advertising, but I did know I wanted to grow up to be just like her. True story, folks.

It was years later that I realized growing up to be just like her would mean working nights at the local "Nutty" club. Yeah, at the time, my mom told me that N-U-D-E was pronounced "nutty," and so a “nude club” was actually a comedy club where you went to hear nutty jokes. Nice, mom.

Back to the billboard: keep in mind that we were on our way to church when we passed this sign. Also keep in mind that my dad is a preacher. Makes it even better doesn’t it?

In hindsight, it’s no wonder that his hair had fully grayed by the time I was 5-years-old. I suppose the fact that it’s now white also can be added to my list of daughterly accomplishments. That's almost as good as being a champion speller, right?


  1. All the way to India ... You're a riot!

  2. Yesterday I was at my mailbox when a vehicle stopped and the lady driving asked me if I knew where the Logans live. I told her that the only Logan I know of is Loquacious Logan and she lives at slogan.blogspot.com. :-)

  3. Signorina Logan(quacious),
    In my much younger days, back when mastedons roamed the earth and the Beastie Boys were young, hip and fresh, I once won a spelling bee. Granted it was only amongst my sixth grade class. However, the point of my leaisurely diversion down amnesia avenue lies in the rather pedestrian word that vaulted me to success.

    The rules clearly stipulated that the contestant was to spell the word then say the word. The word was harass, and I failed to contemplate the homophonic relative of that word, a phrase which my classmates had recently discovered and frequently prefaced with the exhortation to "look at". If only Mike Judge had created Beavis and Butthead in 1985, so the moment of my triumph could have been galvanized with a "Heh, Heh, he said 'harass'."

  4. Wait...what churchgoing youth doesn't know how to spell laodicean? The word comes from the Church of Laodicea in the Book of Revelations and, goodness knows, I heard about the peril of lukewarm worship only about a gazillion times by the time I was 13.

  5. just a gazillion? What'd you grow up in a Methodist church?

    A little interdenominational humor there, ladies and gentlemen.

  6. I didn't even know Methodists were to comment here.

    I was brought up Baptist and the old joke was that Methodists are Baptists who learned to read.

  7. It's ironic that our recent spelling champions have excelled using something other than their own ancestral scripts. I would guess that it comes down to what extracurricular activities are stressed in their families. Instead of playing sports, they're studying. This is not just true of Indian-Americans, but of most Asian-American cultures.

    You can count on the Asian-American kids to be among the top spellers just as you can count on the Kenyans, Ethiopians, etc., to win most marathons.

  8. Anonymous29.5.09

    The Kenyans and Ethiopians win most marathons for three reasons. Life at the perfect altitude to optimize blood cell production (or some such medical thing, same as why serious endurance athletes train in the mountains and sleep in hypobaric tents). No cars or bikes. If you want to get somewhere, you walk. If you want to get somewhere that day, you run. Generations of starvation to naturally select the thinnest, optimally energy using body and metabolism.

  9. One thing I found exasperating was the reader's (judge) obstinate insistence on only pronouncing the contest words in American English. As a result, he threw many of the contestants off. Some recovered and got the words right (amazing, just amazing, these kids!), but some got bounced because of his errors and laziness. He also misattributed some words to a wrong language of origin. Scripps Howard needs to beef up the judgeing staff to include people with multi-lingual skills to support the reader.

  10. Along Roderick's lines: when I heard laodicean pronounced by the local radio station newsperson, I didn't even recognize the word ....

    ...and like the Methodist and Baptist brothers above, if I've heard one one sermon on the church in Laodicea, I've heard a gazillion (we Pentecostals positively exude eschatology don'cha know).

  11. The word comes from the Church of Laodicea in the Book of Revelations

    Since this is about spelling... There is no such book in the Bible. There is "The Revelation of St. John (the Divine)". Note that "Revelation" is in the singular.

    (My parents met at Bible College. Does it show?)

  12. Anonymous30.5.09

    "Nutty Club"...

    Ahhhh, as soon as the last of those dinosaur moms leaves the planet, we can get on with raising our children with respect and maturity.

    These moms just perpetuate the fearful ignorance that their mothers taught them, and the cycle cannot be broken soon enough.

  13. Hey, Ignoramus ... oh, sorry, Anonymous ... maybe she should have taken me in for a round of drinks and a lap dance, too? I mean, good Lord, shielding four-year-olds from sexually-driven nudity, how ignorant and immature is that?

    Readers: I don't usually jump into my comments, and I'm usually a kind person, but mess with my mama and you're going to get a smackdown. If the "progressive" knit-wit above is right and she IS a dinosaur, she's a Velociraptor, which if you didn't know, is armed with "disembowelling claws, as sharp as steak knives, it guts its prey with a single sweep of its powerful legs." (thanks, BBC).

    I hear she finds commenters named "Anonymous" particularly tasty.

  14. My personal fave: "Yo' momma so fat, she fell in love, and broke it." Mostly for the abstract/concrete paradox.

  15. Anonymous30.5.09

    eh...lame attempt at humor, but awesome put down of that first anonymous

  16. The Monster - I knew the proper name (being raised in a Baptist Church and now teaching Sunday School tends to lock in certain details). I figured it would be easier to refer to it by its incorrect, but commonly-used, name.

  17. Anonymous31.5.09

    Love the interdenominational humor. Especially appropriate on a Sunday morning before church!

    Sue- the reference to a certain movie with a mischievous cat and a child star who resembles you was not missed- "sound[s] like [it] got caught in a clothes dryer" :)