National surveys have shown that people fear public speaking more than most things, including death. That led to Jerry Seinfeld's joke, that at a funeral the average person would rather be in the casket than give the eulogy.
That's a lot of dread for standing in front of folks and talking. But if that is where public speaking ranks among our anxieties, where does public thinking stand on the list?
Pretty high, I'm guessing. Which is why I have so much admiration for the students who participated in the Gwinnett County Spelling Bee on Saturday. Seventy-six competed in the written segment (and I bet they could all spell "trombone") for a chance to be one of 12 finalists in the oral portion of the contest.
That's right, these kids (ranging from fourth- to eighth-graders) competed diligently for the right not to speak, but to spell, in front of an auditorium packed with people at Central Gwinnett High School. No pressure, kids. Just step up to the microphone and spell "immiscible."
And please remember to enunciate.
"Enunciate" was not one of the 112 words on the judges' list for the finals, but there were plenty of toughies. The Daily Post sponsors the competition, and this was my third time serving as a judge. Each year I've marveled at the kids' spelling acumen and their ability to perform under pressure.
And each year I've heard the same comment, from judges and other volunteers: Man, I couldn't have won this thing. I'm in that same boat, adding to my vocabulary each time I judge, learning several words I hope will improve my crossword puzzle prowess.
On Saturday, Asad Ladhani, a fifth-grader at Suwanee Elementary, was the county champion, clinching the title by spelling "graupel" and then "poinsettia" correctly. I was impressed by Ladhani on several levels, not the least of which was that I had not heard the word "graupel" before.
I thought it sounded like something you might order at Starbucks. As in, "I'll have a venti extra hot breve misto with a shot of hazelnut. And, oh yeah, a graupel to go." In that vein, here are three of the tougher words that were asked on Saturday along with what I thought the definition could be and what it is:
What it could be: A hit song by Devo.
What it is: An insignificant; especially a young person.
What it could be: People who are allergic to numbers or numerology.
What it is: The study or collection of coins, medals, tokens, paper money, etc.
What it could be: A kind of pepper, or seasoning, from Europe.
What it is: Of or having normal digestion; healthy and happy: cheerful.
What the bee taught me is that these kids are hardly whiffets. The prize money and trophies awarded turned the top 12 into numismatics, and they all left looking very eupeptic, which might have had something to do with the weather.
Had the competition been held one week earlier, graupel would have forced it to be postponed.
E-mail Todd Cline at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears on Tuesdays.