My final word is decuman. An adjective from Latin, it means “extremely large” or “immense,” usually in reference to a wave. The sample sentence: That decuman wave that took the ship fore and aft swept the life raft off the deck.
Decuman: d-e-c-u-m-e-n. Decuman.
Consolation prize (a Tootsie Pop) in hand, I watch the professor triumph over the other three finalists, and in so doing earn a $20 gift certificate, a T-shirt, and bragging rights.
On my way home, I think about the time before Gutenberg and the printing press, before there were widely accepted spelling conventions. Back then, words were spelled any number of ways. Fish, fisc, fyshe, fissh, fisch, and so on. It wasn’t intentionally haphazard: The rule of thumb for scribes was to try and match each letter to a corresponding sound that would make the word readable to the target audience—kind of like an antiquated form of text messaging. Perhaps, I thought, my being a bad speller simply meant I was born a millennium too late. Which led me to ponder: When someone misspells a word in a spelling bee, does it really mean they’re failing the system, or is the system, in its rigidity, failing said speller? Does it really matter if an arcane word like decuman has a final e versus a final a?
Or maybe I’m just a poor loser. Thank God for spell-check.