Thursday, June 09, 2005


I've commented on this subject on Modigli's blog recently, but I thought there was enough there to make it my own little entry here in my world.

Recently, having found myself with way too much time on my hands, I managed to catch a rerun of the Washington, DC spelling bee on television. I'm a geek and I like to watch these things. Although I'm a decent speller, from time to time particularly tricky words will screw me up. (In the eighth grade, I was eliminated from my class spelling bee by the word "chauffeur." Although I knew that there was that annoying extra "u" in there, I apparently placed it in the wrong place.)

After watching the bee for a little bit (they cut parts of it in the rerun, obviously, because a cute little Asian boy that I was watching was there during one round and suddenly vanished after the commercial break, even though I never saw him misspell a word), I came to realize that the "pronouncer" (a clever pun on "announcer," get it? GET IT? HA!) was a moron.

Given that her title was "pronouncer," it would have behooved her to actually learn to pronounce words correctly. This was particularly grating when her mispronunciations could very well cause a competitor to misspell a word, or to inappropriately suggest to a competitor the proper spelling of the word.

It happened several times while I was watching, but I only remember two now, both times with only two competitors left standing. Heck, I remember there were times when the kids would repeat the word, and in doing so, pronounce it better than this woman!

One competitor was given the word "nicoise," a word of French origin and most recognizable as a type of salad. Although this woman recognized the words French origin and (thankfully) didn't make the word rhyme with "noise," she still screwed up the poor kid by pronouncing it "nicois." "Nicoise" is pronounced "nee-SWAHZ"; she kept saying "nee-SWAH." That "e" on the end makes a big difference in the pronunciation! The poor kid, though, didn't really know his French anyway, apparently, he screwed up the word big time. So in the end it didn't make a difference 'cause the kid screwed it up anyway ("N-E-E-S-W-A-S"), but it still irked me that this woman -- whose JOB it was to accurately speak these words -- messed it up.

By the way, this woman also apparently had a hard time admitting when she screwed up, which also irritated me. Although she did correct herself on "nicoise" before the kid started spelling, she never said, "Oh, sorry, I pronounced it wrong the first time. Let me say it again." Instead, the interplay between the kid and the pronouncer went something like this:

PRONOUNCER: Your word is nee-SWAH.
KID: Uhhh... Could I have the word origin?
PRONOUNCER: The word is French. nee-SWAH.
KID: Uhhh...
PRONOUNCER: Did you hear me? The word is nee-SWAHZ.

Hello? Yeah, we all heard you the first time, and you MISPRONOUNCED THE WORD. You can't just go back and cover it up with a "Did you hear me?". Own up to your mistake, biatch.

The last girl was given the word "forgetive." (Yeah, I know, I would never use that word either.) The word means "capable of imagining or inventing" (according to and is pronounced "FORJ-e-tiv". To my mind, it clearly is related to the word "forge," to create. Note that the word has a hard "j" sound in it. But not for this "pronouncer" lady, who clearly hadn't practiced the words she was called upon to pronounce, because she pronounced the word like "forget" with "-ive" at the end. "Forget" has a hard "g" sound in it. Can you see how this would be pretty unfair?

PRONOUNCER: The word is for-GET-iv.
KID: Uhhhh...
PRONOUNCER: Did you hear me? The word is FORJ-e-tiv.

So this kid spelled this word correctly to beat out the guy who couldn't spell "nicoise" to win the bee. But clearly this little girl got a HUGE hint in that the pronouncer told her that the word looked a helluva lot like "forget."

Okay, so I know in my world this doesn't make a lick of difference. But I still feel bad for that "nicoise" kid who got screwed over twice by the lame pronouncer.


Obligatory "Spellbound" story:

If you haven't seen the movie, it's a documentary that follows a few kids in the high-pressure world of the National Spelling Bee. No, seriously. It's a really good watch, because you see the hopes and dreams of these kids and how this is a big deal to them, how to them making it to the National Spelling Bee -- and then perhaps taking home the big prize -- means something.

One kid, Neil, is of Asian Indian descent. I felt sooooo bad for him through the entire movie because his dad was a hyper-type-A personality who simply could not let his kid relax and have some fun. I wanted to whack his father upside the head to remind him that it's just a competition, not some life-or-death brain surgery or something. By the time it was over Neil probably thought that his father's love hinged upon his winning the Spelling Bee. Major therapy time. ("You never loved me! You just wanted a walking dictionary in the house! *sob*")

Anyway, in one scene -- almost fleeting, beacuse it's part of a fade-out to the next scene -- Neil's dad is speed-drilling him on some words out of the official spellers' book or whatever. (Why speed drills have any purpose I don't know, since the kids pretty much get to stand there forever if they want before they spell a word.) At one point, the dad gets to the word "epitome."

He pronounces it "EP-i-tohm."

I remember thinking, "Man, not only are you pressuring your kid to death, but you're a fucking moron on top of it...."


MoDigli said...

Dennis! Great post! You are so right about the pronouncer bullshit. If they expect the kids to spell these outrageous words, then they should at least have an announcer who has prepared herself to NOT make a mistake.

Makes me wonder if she had a personal interest in the "forgetive" girl winning. The announcer's mistake was definitely in the spellers favor.

Grown ups sometimes suck when it comes to dealing with kids. Lots of unfair shit, and god forbid they would ever admit a mistake. It's rampant in the education system, in my opinion - teachers, adults, pronounces all think they "know it all" and that they're in charge, so they are infallible. It's all about the power-trip.

Vince said...

So this makes me think of the time that Jack from Will & Grace was going to enter the Gay Spelling Bee and he and Karen were practicing. She gave him the word "doily," and he asked her to use it in a sentence. So she did. "The man walked doily down the street."

God, I love that.

D.T. said...

LMAO! You do have too much time on your hands...but that's good, cuz then who else would talk about this stuff? I mean, life isnt just about the big important stuff, but its about the little, trivial things that people really care about.

Anyways, but yeah, what a bitch! If I was at that spelling bee, I would totally get up and shout at her for not pronouncing the words right. But then I would feel bad, because I would pronounce "nicoise" as...well...I'd rhyme it with "noise."

But since you obviously know the right way to say it, you should go and go all crazy on her ass, like one of those t-ball sport-fanatic parents you see on the news. And if you do go...dont forget to invite me to the ultimate spelling bee! LOL...

Anonymous said...

Glad you wrote this. I've actually had my correct pronunciation of "Nicoise" corrected by ingoramuses who don't realize that the E after the S means you do pronounce the S. I don't mind being corrected if I'm wrong but being corrected if I'm right is infuriating! I've also been corrected for pronouncing bruschetta "wrong." So infuriating! I learned that word in Italy; I know what I'm saying!

Cheryl said...

Thank you so much for writing about this. Years ago I worked in a restaurant that served Ni├žoise salads and I actually went to the library to research the correct pronunciation. I had many customers who corrected me when I said neeSWAHZ. One even said it should be NEESHwah. I'd also heard that bruschetta is correctly pronounced brusKETta, but man...people will jump on you really fast to say it should be "bruSHETta.

In the grand scheme of things, these aren't terribly important issues. But I do see how it could have affected the outcome of that spelling bee, and it is absolutely incumbent upon the pronouncer to do the research necessary to make sure to not mispronounce anything. That's like a baker just guessing at a recipe — disastrous.