This morning Akeelah & the Bee was on TV. I actually netflixed this before, and caught it showing a couple of times on cable afterwards, but like good movies, you can't help but get drawn in again.
This movie floods me with memories of the Spelling Bee. I want to share what it's like, from first-hand experience. I represented my elementary school, Clinton. First I won the Class competition, then won the School competition, then went on to I think the City competition. Then now one word haunts me till this day -- "BARBELLATE". If there is one word that would send shivers down your spine if you ever heard it again, for me it's THAT word...
Spelling somehow always came easy to me. I never got a not perfect score on a spelling test. To me, what's so hard about remembering how things are spelled, or memorizing thousands of words? I-before-E-except-after-C, right? *hehe* It's very funny actually, how one of my biggest pet peeves remains to be misspellings. Really makes me cringe, especially when I'm not at liberty to bring it to someone's attention. I can't even bear it when I make a typographical error -- when your finger hits the wrong key by accident and your eye doesn't catch it! Exasperating.
I almost didn't make it past the School competition, by the way. The judges wanted me to spell "premiere", but I spelled it "premier". And they said it was incorrect. So I stood there with a look that a dog gives when it's bewildered about something. You see, at the International School where I spent my early childhood, that is the spelling that I was familiar with. So I begged to differ, rushed to a dictionary, showed it to my 8th grade teacher, then the decision was reversed.
So for the next level of competition, I was given this thick booklet full of words that I was supposed to study. My mom just drilled me a few pages at a time over the next few weeks, and at the end I ended up memorizing them all. INCLUDING that goddamn word we dare not speak of. I didn't go so far as learning word origins and alternate pronunciations, though -- that's for Nationals, which I didn't get to.
So in City, I came in third. So end of the road for me. Because I misspelled that infamous word. You see, you cannot go back when you have already uttered a letter. It was plain over-confidence that caused my stupid error. As soon as the judges gave me the word to spell, it immediately shone up in big bold letters in my head. All I had to do was SAY THE LETTERS. I was like, no way, this is too easy! So I spell it quickly -- "B-A-R-B-A...shit". Of course I didn't say the last part aloud up at the mic. I stopped right there and started walking off, before the judges could say "I'm sorry, but that is incorrect"... in fact you could tell how upset I was with myself when footage of the competition was aired on the evening news (don't know if my folks still have that tape, me storming off the stage *hehehe*). I think the judges knew when I knew that I messed up. And do you know what the winning word was??? RHEUMATISM. Unbelievable.
So even now as an engineering professional, when design documents and communications are filled with TLAs & FLAs (three-letter and four-letter acronyms) and abbreviations, I can pride myself on still being able to spell without the aid of a spell-checker :)