Alan C. Baird
recently coauthored 9TimeZones.com--a print\web\wap project featured at the Whitney Biennial. Some of his online stories and scripts appear in Locus Novus, minima, 3am, In Posse Review, The Morning News, Identity Theory, LitPot, the-phone-book.com, Quick Fiction and flashquake. He lives just a stone's throw from Hollywood . . . which is fine and dandy, until the stones are thrown back.



|| STORY 11.7.03 | estimated reading time: 1:45
Buzz Words
by Alan C. Baird

At the ripe old age of thirteen, Buzz earned a trip to the 1964 National Spelling Bee, after winning a series of local competitions. However, he bombed out on the second word ("abbot") because his school bus stopped at Abbott Street every day. Even though his left brain knew the proper spelling, his stubborn right brain insisted on calling up images of that treacherous street sign, standing a mere two feet outside the safety-glass bus window.

So our vanquished hero spent the remainder of the competition sitting in the audience, writing down every word and torturing himself with dreams of What Might Have Been. He'd even worked out a complex algorithm to predict which words would have been "his," and spelled each one of them correctly: "vicissitude," "diastema," and especially the dreaded "myxovirus." By his reckoning, he should have won the whole shootin' match . . . but Abbott Street had wrecked his budding career as WordBoy.

The next year, he entered local history books by becoming the first area youngster to win two Washington trips in a row. This time, he was relaxed, joking with fellow contestants while finishing 14th in the country, stumped only by "gneiss." He deemed the word to be an honorable Waterloo, even though it didn't sound that way (pronounced "nice"). But most important, he was delighted with his 1965 results, the trip, and life in general. Every few years, the regional newspaper still publishes a huge picture of him during the spring, in their annual Spelling Season Shrine.

Could he have won the national competition in that first year? Maybe. But if he'd survived 1964's second round, the same words would have been doled out to different contestants, during later rounds. Words that were spelled easily, in his "abbott" universe, might have been misspelled, in the alternative "abbot" scheme of things. For example, his fancy algorithm couldn't really predict if little Susie would be able to deal with "escharotic" in AbbotWorld, when she was only required to spell "escapist" in AbbottWorld. Thus, Buzz's subsequent word list would end up slightly altered--which means he certainly *didn't* know it all.

Although he often acted that way.

Still does, as his friends will eagerly tell you.

However, sweet revenge was exacted from his old nemesis (Merriam-Webster) during the late fall of 1999, when he pointed out "pointtillist" . . . a misspelling which had appeared in their dictionaries for nearly two decades.

As you might guess, he's still bragging about that.

 

More Opium from Alan C. Baird... will read your palm.



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