If you had asked me earlier this year what a “purga” is, I might have guessed it had something to do with cleaning, or purging — and I would’ve been wrong.
But early Tuesday, as fresh snow continued to refill the path I tried to clear, I told myself I had to persevere in this struggle against what seemed like a purga, or “intense arctic snowstorm … characterized by severe cold and wind-driven snow.”
The reason I now know this Russian word is because my sister, who lives in West Chester, recently mentioned my 13-year-old nephew had misspelled it in his regional spelling bee at the Chester County Intermediate Unit.
Thanks to purga, young William won’t be heading to the Scripps National Spelling Bee outside of Washington, D.C., but thanks to his participation on the regional level, hey, even his aunt in Wilkes-Barre expanded her vocabulary.
Learning new words and their origins — did you know shampoo is from Hindi? — is one of the best aspects of a spelling bee, whether it’s the huge national bee or our own Times Leader/Scripps Regional Bee, where 21 spellers from Northeastern Pennsylvania competed last Sunday at the Woodlands Inn and Resort.
Do you know klompen is the word for the wooden shoes they used to wear in Holland? Or that langosta is a South American lobster? How about Fletcherism? That’s a practice of eating small amounts and chewing them thoroughly.
Maybe you know a muumuu is a Hawaiian dress, but would you know offhand how many u’s to include? Maybe you know illuminati are enlightened folks, but are you sure about the number of l’s? We’ve all seen an asterisk on a phone, but it can be easy to forget it ends in “sk.”
Those words I just mentioned were all spelled by a half dozen competitors in the Times Leader/Scripps Regional Bee whom we could call “the sensational six.”
From Round 6 to Round 11 Elina Joshi from Abington Heights Middle School, Cassidy Crawford from Bear Creek Community Charter School, Madison Waltz from Dunmore Elementary Center, Peter Khoudary from Good Shepherd Academy, Bryan Landron from Heights/Terrace and Gabriel Lott from Wyoming Seminary Lower School were unstoppable, correctly spelling word after word.
But bees can’t go on forever, so we three judges gave the pronouncer the OK to jump ahead to a more difficult section of our word list. Despite the added challenge all six of our remaining spellers prevailed in Rounds 12 and 13, correctly spelling such words as dunnage (temporary bracing in a storage compartment), Sicily (an island in Italy), purblind (lacking in vision), sauciness (impertinence), magnific (imposing in size) and uncouth (lacking in polish and grace).
Ask yourselves, grown-ups, how many of us would do as well?
Then Round 14 proved the undoing of four spellers, who stumbled over palfrey (a saddle horse), surmountable (capable of being overcome) discalced (barefoot) and stick-to-itiveness (tenacity.)
With only two spellers left, the suspense heightened as Madison Waltz and Cassidy Crawford each faltered over a word: elucidate (to make intelligible) and annexation (the act of incorporating another country.) With both contestants misspelling in a two-person round, the rules say they both stay in the bee for the next round.
You could almost hear audience members holding their collective breath as Cassidy spelled parvule (a tiny pill) correctly and Madison misspelled Grundyism (narrow conventionality).
That put the ball back in Cassidy’s court. If she correctly spelled one more word — the anticipated championship word — she would win.
The word was carbide (a binary compound of carbon.) Cassidy got it right. She won, and the spectators seemed to exhale in unison before erupting into applause.
As winner of the Northeastern Pennsylvania bee, which is co-sponsored by the Times Leader Media Group and The Medicine Shoppe Pharmacy, Cassidy will advance to the Scripps National Spelling Bee near Washington, D.C., in late May.
Only one person gets the first-place trophy, but most likely all of us — contestants, family members, friends, teachers, judges — walked away with more knowledge of words. That’s all to the good, whether we become “Jeopardy!” contestants someday, or whether we’re just picking up our shovels and heading back out to the purga.
Times Leader features writer Mary Therese Biebel served as one of three judges at the Times Leader/Scripps Regional Spelling Bee. You can reach her at 570-991-6109 or on Twitter @BiebelMT.comments powered by Disqus