Full Circle: Interesting, and amusing, lessons from spelling

Published 5:07 pm Friday, June 23, 2017


I tried holding this up to a mirror but it didn’t help. Any grade school student, however, could tell you what it says. It’s because those kids are really smart. Case in point: a 12-year-old just won the latest Scripps National Spelling Bee with the word “marocain.” Not sure if this knowledge was gleaned from strolling the aisles of Austin’s JoAnn Fabric, but it is, indeed, a kind of ribbed crepe fabric made of silk, wool, or rayon — or a combination of all three. Now all you smarty pants are in the know!

But, how about the word “bee?” Turns out it is a language puzzle that has never satisfactorily been explained. As early as 1769 it was used in “spinning bee.” Then the word grew to include husking, sewing, quilting, logging, barn raising etc., all events where a group of people got together to create something. Spelling “bee” was in print as early as 1875. I wonder if folks spelled while they sewed, quilted, cut down trees or built barns? Makes sense to me who has always encouraged multi-tasking.

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So, then, why the word “bee?” We can assume it was inspired by the industriousness of the tiny insects as they joined together in their frenzied labors. Of course, other scholars have rejected this simple explanation by coming up with much more complicated theories. I’ll stick with the bees since I’m not very complicated.

The most recent spelling bee prompted Google to look in its archives to see which words Americans can’t spell, and to do so state by state. In a not very scientific three-month study, the results were not only interesting, but amusing — and in some cases pitiful.

The good folks of Wisconsin, for example, most often searched for how to spell … are you ready for this … Wisconsin! This may explain why they’re called “cheese heads.”

Mississippi could spell its state name, but had trouble with the word “nanny.”

Two trouble-maker words battled it out for the title of “Most Misspelled Word.” “Beautiful” and “pneumonia” were the champs. Interestingly, California, Kentucky, Minnesota, New York and Ohio struggled with “beautiful” while Alabama, Maine, Michigan and Washington couldn’t spell “pneumonia.” Meanwhile, Utah simplified things by calling pneumonia a “disease.” Lame!

In Arkansas, the peskiest word was “chihuahua.” This could be blamed upon watching Taco Bell commercials too frequently or their desire to adopt a pet whose name is longer than it is.

The spirited folks from Indiana and Delaware needed help rejoicing with “hallelujah” while the industrious housewives of Iowa couldn’t spell “vacuum.” Dyspeptic residents of New Hampshire frantically requested “diarrhea,” Idaho couldn’t “quote,” shoppers in Florida needed “receipts,” and Hawaii needed more “people.”

North Dakota was in a quandary over “dilemma,” Alaska asked for help with their “schedules,” Arizona and Colorado could have told them it was “tomorrow,” but they couldn’t spell it, and Montana was “surprised” over Nebraska being so “suspicious.”

The residents of Washington, D.C. found “ninety” troublesome, Oklahoma remained “patient,” while New Mexico wanted some “bananas” and Pennsylvania was hungry for “sauerkraut.” Dissing their own potatoes, both foods were considered “delicious” in Utah.

Considering the livestock found in Louisiana, it’s understandable why the good folks there couldn’t spell “giraffe,” but it begs the question of why Oregon couldn’t spell “sense” nor New Jersey “twelve?” It’s as mysterious as the word “gray” being a problem in Georgia.

Maryland and Massachusetts needed a “special” “license” because they couldn’t spell either one. Nevada was “available” while North Carolina was looking for an “angel” to help find “diamonds” in Kansas.

The “priority” in Wyoming was getting people in Texas and Missouri to spell “maintenance.” Illinois “appreciated” the good “colleges” in South Dakota, whereas Tennessee struggled with the “chaos” of it all.

Vacationers in Vermont wanted to go to “Europe,” but they weren’t able to because they couldn’t spell it. They settled for a trip to Fargo instead.

Rhode Island simply called everyone else “liars.” Unfortunately, it would have been way more effective had they been able to spell it.

Peggy Keener of Austin is the author of two books: “Potato In A Rice Bowl” and “Wondahful Mammaries.” Peggy Keener invites readers to share their memories with her by emailing maggiemamm16@gmail.com. Memories shared with Keener may be shared or referenced in subsequent editions of “Full Circle.”