"Is there anything else I can, like, get out of you?" speller Mitchell Robson asked longtime Scripps National Spelling Bee pronouncer Jacques Bailly when he got his first word of the night. He had identified his word, "esquisse," as French, but before he ultimately spelled it right, he wanted some more info during the finals Thursday. Some spellers make it a practice of asking lots of questions to ensure they have a firm understanding of the word, so how many questions can the Scripps Spelling Bee contestants ask the judges?
Earlier Thursday, now-finalist Sylvie Lamontagne jokingly requested an easy word. That's the type of request that sure to be denied, but contest organizers encourage the young brainiacs to ask away about many aspects of the words posed to them. According to the official contest rules, the pronouncer will respond to a spellers' inquiries about a word's pronunciation, language(s) of origin, and alternate pronunciations. They can also ask the pronouncer for the word's definition, part of speech, and to use it in a sentence. If the word sounds just like another word, the pronouncer will indicate which of the homonyms the speller should spell by defining the word.
This year's Bee's youngest contestant, the amazing 6-year-old Akash Vukoti, told Vox why asking questions is so important earlier this week.
Earlier in the competition, Vukoti misspelled bacteriolytic, defined as a "destruction of bacteria." But I know he'll be back, because he honestly has this spelling bee thing down to a science, even though he was a toddler, like, five minutes ago.
Finding out the language of origin is super important for a word like bondon, he said in an adorable (but very informative) video, because it's a type of French cheese. "It's a very tricky word," he says. "The 'on' in that word will be pronounced nasally — it will be pronounced with the nose ... So then you say, like, 'on.' It's like oink, oink, oink. On, on. Bondon."
Because so many adults are watching the Bee, the event's organizers are gearing the sentences that accompany each word toward them too, The Washington Post reported. That's right, a team of comedy writers was hired to jazz up the sentences in order to make sure the Bee is as entertaining as possible. Because that's a question the contestants nearly always ask.
For example, a "tibourbou" is "a tropical American tree with yellowish flowers that yields a light wood." So when one speller got the word earlier Thursday, Bailly supplied this sentence: “When a tibourbou falls in a forest nobody hears it, except when the NSA is listening,” And the NSA is always listening.”
I'm glad it's up to these young prodigies to suss out the right questions to ask to help them spell the word correctly, because if it were me, my only question would be "Which way to the crying couch?" after I heard the dreaded ding.