Exploring the pathways of our lexicon
The VT Helps Out A Literary Bee
Last night, the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses held its fifth annual Spelling Bee in support of its non-profit efforts to help out independent literary publishers. The CLMP always attracts an all-star cast of spellers from the New York book world. This time around, the Visual Thesaurus joined forces with the CLMP Bee, supplying the words to stump the cream of the literary crop.
It was a sold-out event at the Diane von Furstenberg Studio in New York's Meatpacking District. Bob Morris, who writes for the Style Section of the New York Times emceed, warming up the crowd with spelling jokes before introducing this year's fourteen competitors: Jonathan Adler (Top Design), Jonathan Burnham (Publisher, HarperCollins) David Carr (The Night of the Gun), Michael Cunningham (Specimen Days), David Gates (The Wonders of the Invisible World), Brooke Geahan (Founder, Accompanied Literary Society), Brad Gooch (Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor), Heidi Julavits (The Uses of Enchantment), Wayne Koestenbaum (Hotel Theory), Honor Moore (The Bishop's Daughter), Michael Musto (La Dolce Musto, Village Voice) Sara Nelson (Editor-in-Chief, Publisher's Weekly), Robert Sietsema (Restaurant Critic, Village Voice), Judith Thurman (Cleopatra's Nose), and Meg Wolitzer (The Position). Wolitzer was the defending champ, going up against the new competition to defend her lovely aluminum foil crown.
As in past years, the judge for the event was Oxford English Dictionary editor at large Jesse Sheidlower. Before announcing the rules, he explained that the words used in the competition were culled from the results of the Visual Thesaurus Spelling Bee. Thanks to thousands of spellers who have played the VT Bee, we now have voluminous data ranking words by their difficulty. The CLMP Bee contestants got to face increasingly harder words, just as players in the VT Bee try to climb to the top of the spelling heap.
In keeping with the stylish surroundings, early rounds included many words from the world of fashion, like herringbone, jodhpurs, and haberdasher. Eyelet and passementerie proved particularly difficult, knocking off two competitors each before getting spelled correctly.