Archive for Wednesday, April 19, 2000

Bee proves that the art of spelling is still alive sort of

April 19, 2000

(Editor's note: This is the column that won first place in the Kansas Press Association contest. It was printed last January, when The Signal was still a "wrap" around the Lawrence Journal-World. For those who may have missed it, here it is. Enjoy.)

It was with great interest that I took the call Thursday morning from Tom Mundinger, principal at Baldwin Elementary School. He had a favor to ask.

After recording Mundinger's transformation into a chocolate sundae in full-color detail on our front page last week, I really figured I owed him one. But what could it be?

"Could you help judge our spelling bee Friday morning?" was Mundinger's simple request.

Whew! I thought. Anything that didn't involve ice cream on my head was a relief. I told him, sure, I'd love to help out. I'd never judged anything before and have always wondered how Jack Murphy and those other guys in the robes felt.

It's also a subject that's close to my heart and even more so with my return to newspapers. After working with words such as Escherichia coli, Salmonella choleraesuis and Actinobacillus pleauropneumoniae as everyday occurrences in my previous animal-health related writing/editing employment, I thought returning to everyday words would be a breeze.

Boy, was I wrong.

Who changed all the spellings of kids' names while I was gone? And why? What's to be gained by adding a "y" to a good, old-fashioned name like David? It is different, granted, but it's an absolute nightmare for an editor.

And then there are those constant puzzlers is it Christin, Kristin, Crystan or thank you very much, Krystan? Don't get me started on Jarod or is it Jerred, Jarrod, Jared or what? Katelynn is another, or rather Katelin or Catelynn. What about Kalie or Kyleigh or Kaylee?

I could go on, but you get the picture. One of the most grievous of newspaper errors is misspelling a name. I was hounded by my professors and every editor I've ever had. Likewise, I've hounded every writer who has ever worked for me DON'T misspell a source's name.

But it happens, and it will always happen even with the advent of the greatest godsend of all time spell check. As witnessed by the previous list of names, there is no such thing as a correct spelling anymore. And editors everywhere will refuse to believe some of today's spellings. They'll change it bank on it and that's where misspellings will always occur. Just ask Kyrstan.

That's also why I was so interested to see the names of the finalists for Friday's spelling bee. There were two representatives from each fourth-and fifth-grade class. They were dueling for the right to represent BES at the Douglas County Spelling Bee Feb. 13 in Lawrence.

These were the best spellers from the classes and I immediately developed a theory about why. Most of them learned early the importance of spelling with last names like Vander Tuig, Labuda, Krysztof, Grissum, Daigh, Beall and Lauridsen. Hill and Smith were the exceptions.

In contrast, their first names were spelled the old-fashioned way. There were Matt and Susan, Emily and Morgan, Max and Nicole, Jessica (the way it should be), Amanda without any extra letters, Jacob the way you like it, Cory, Maria and Danielle, too. The exception was Nuely, but I'll grant that one because I love the name and can't dispute its spelling.

What does it all tell us? I think it says good spellers begin with names.

And speaking of good spellers, they put on quite a show before Susan Elwood (a name as it should be) won the contest by correctly spelling "nineteen" and "seventy" to edge out runner-up Katie Beall.

The spelling bee gave me more than cause to think about names. It gave me faith that education isn't being eroded, at least yet, by spell check (the way the calculator altered math and the digital clock hampered time telling). As testament to that I didn't use spell check on this column honust.

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