Place your bets on spelling bees as well as walking flies

THEY say some people will bet on anything - even a couple of flies walking up a wall.

Well, I don't know about the flies, but I do recall that some teachers at Quirindi High School a long time ago took bets over whether a fourth-year student would score 100 per cent in a Leaving Certificate spelling examination.

I wonder how many bets were placed on the results of the national spelling bee held in the United States recently.

A 14-year-old, Snigdha Nandipati, won the competition with guetapens, but a six-year-old who missed a semi-final place said she would be back next year.

I don't like mentioning a person's race, because in most cases it seems irrelevant, but newspapers the world over have mentioned that the winner was the fifth consecutive Indian American to take the crown and the 10th in the past 14 years. Indian Americans are set to make up about 1 per cent of the US population, but I believe Indian Americans had something to do with organising the competition and that could have been a reason for the Indian American support.

I haven't been able to find the word guetapens in any English dictionary. A reason is that it is recognised as a French word, meaning ambush, or trap. I am sure that one day soon it will figure in Australian parliamentary debates - "I was the victim of a guetapens".

The winner, who claimed a trophy and more than $40,000, wants to be a psychiatrist or a neurosurgeon. Her brother, who took little interest in the competition, is more into tennis. Of course, if he's a good tennis player he can win a lot more than $40,000.

Snigdha gave her father credit for some of her success. He would see signs on billboards and ask her to spell them.

I have seen signs on billboards too, but I wouldn't recommend them as spelling aids - words such as accomodation, Nullabor, cemetary, concensus, humourous, sargent (I knew a person named Sargent who without his knowledge was responsible for regular arguments at the paper where I worked), and of course the favourites its and it's. I could go on, but I would rather stop when I think I'm ahead. Besides, my computer keeps correcting the spelling even when I don't want it to.

The second placegetter in this big spelling competition got through with the word schwarmerei. This is said to be a German word, but it has entered the English language with the meaning of extravagant enthusiasm for a thing or person.

In 1845 the Edinburgh Review said a person's mind was clear and strong and free from schwarmerei. It went on to say the word was "untranslatable", because it was "un-English". Over the years, however, many people have used the word in the English language, such as in the 1980 comment about a person being adored by "schwarmerish women".

Third place went to a 12-year-old who was stumped with the word schwannoma. This means a kind of nerve cell tumour. The name comes from German physiologist Theodor Schwann, but please don't ask me to explain any more.

The six-year-old was eliminated from the competition when she failed to spell ingluvies, the crop of a bird or insect.

Incidentally, that fourth-year student at Quirindi High School scored 100 per cent in the Leaving Certificate spelling examination. He found out about the teachers' bets a few days later. If he had known in time he could have put in a bit of his own money and made a killing on the result.

lbword@midcoast.com.au

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