Tuesday, December 30, 2008

How Do You Spell That?

I spell. Obsessively. It's sort of a hobby, but it's also a bit of a neurosis. I must know how to spell a word, that word, any word, at any time.

When I watch a movie, if a character's name is unusual, I have to stick around for the credits so I can learn how to spell that name. (Truthfully, I think about it all through the movie, bouncing around different variations in my mind. It would be helpful if the characters wore Price is Right nametags. But then that's all I would look at.)

People who know me well can sense the uneasiness that comes over me when I hear a word whose spelling is not yet automatic to me. They stop mid-sentence to clarify the spelling, knowing I will track better with the conversation if we can get that issue out of the way.

You may notice sometime that I often mindlessly tap my fingertips, sort of rhythmically, but without a clear pattern. My mom does the same thing, but she is playing a melody on the piano in her head. Me? I'm typing in my head. Probably the sentence you just said.

When I cannot fall asleep, I play word games in my head. Lots of them.

Robb counts this is as a great reason to have married me; when he is drafting a business letter or email, he will shout to me from the far corners of the house: "Hey! Spell accentuate!" (Or the current word at hand.) And I do. It works nicely for both of us. He gets the correct spelling, and I get to spell.

I recently joined a very specific virtual community on Facebook; the name of the group is, "I Still Remember the Word I Spelled Wrong in the Spelling Bee." We are a mighty band of warriors, and every single one of us remembers the telltale ding that signals a misspelled word.

There are over 1,000 stories of misspelled words, of glory lost in the moment when it mattered most. Or seemed to. I am not alone.

In fourth grade, I went down on the word banana. Some of my friends had made up (or discovered) this silly little cheer that was the new favorite chant on the playground, and for whatever ridiculous reason, they spelled B-A-N-A-N-A-S. When I spelled my word, the cheer ran through my mind and took over my thoughts, and without thinking, I added an S. I was mortified. I spelled banana. But I made it plural.

In fifth grade, I went down on the word missile. I spelled it M-I-S-T-H-L-E. I think I was headed for mistletoe, but even still, I didn't need that H. It haunts me to this day.

In sixth grade, I lost on the word hygiene. I took out the I. It is very important.

In eighth grade, I won. Yep. I won on the word gastric. (And it was a "duh word." That's the name I invented in fifth grade for words that required no thought to spell. Isn't that a darling and genius name? "Please, Dad, give me a hard one. That's a Duh Word.")

Sadly, I lost the county spelling bee. I went down on the word wiseacre. And I don't want to tell you how I spelled it. I'm still embarrassed.

And do you know what is the very, very worst? When I had to sit in my seat, banished for an extra letter or two, only to listen to a competitor spell a word I knew. I knew that one! Are you kidding me?? I am disqualified, and he gets a Duh Word??

Oh, how my life's path would have been different, if only.


Sara Laverty said...

my mom jokes with me that her one regret was not naming be barbara banana mississippi. i struggled so hard to learn how to spell those words. (yes, even with the song on how to spell mississippi) and she said that it was just thrilling to actually be able to see my little mind turning and thinking and working so hard to remember the way to spell those three words.

she still gave me a spelling challenged name as it is "different" than most :)

Carr525 said...

My favorite part of that post was not only that I do SO many of the same things...or that I remember the 3rd grade spelling bee when my stepdad actually came to see me (I got out on the first word...I've blocked out what it was...)...

No, my favorite part was remembering when we would hold hands and your darn fingers would type all the time!! I laughed out loud when I read that.

I totally love you. :)

my3boys said...

4th grade (the only 4th grader in the bee, I might add).
I'm convinced the reader pronounced it wrong.
I'm still bitter.

p.s. Didn't you just LOVE "Akeelah and the Bee"?

Kerri Williams said...

I don't think I'm _quite_ as, um, "committed" to spelling as you are (although I do drive my family crazy as the pronunciation Nazi), but I have been known to pull out my laptop during a movie to look up the names of actors I don't remember (www.imdb.com). Spelling counts, but not as much as being able to place the person in their last five films, their co-stars, critical reviews, marital status and upcoming previews.
There are worse quirks to have.

(Aren't there...?)

Kerri Williams said...

Oooooh - I _am_ big fat liar.

Bird By Bird is one of my favorite books ever ("Just leave 'im lay where Jesus flang 'im, honey") but, like our heroine of Green Gables, Anne Lamott is spelled with an "e" and no capital "M".

Knowing that you did not post in request of proofreading assistance, I humbly ask forgiveness for pointing this out. It is, after all, an obsession. Sigh.

Tricia said...

Oh, Kerri. I am most thankful for your proofreading and careful assistance. Where would I be, not to mention my blog and Ann Lamott, without you?? :)

Extra points.

Tricia said...

Megan! I didn't even know you knew I was out here...I'm so glad you found me. Happy Reading. :)

Confession: I thought of you as I wrote about my incessant typing. :)