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CLINE: My annual abecedarian adventure

Some people get their "word of the day" via e-mail, others from the desk calendar they got for Christmas. Me? I stock up during my yearly duty as a judge for the Gwinnett County Spelling Bee.

During five years as a judge for the event, which is sponsored by the Daily Post, I've never ceased to be impressed by the poise and intelligence of the young spellers. The words are tough enough, and when you are asked to spell them in front of a crowd in a darkened room with a spotlight trained solely on you, well, that's pressure at the highest level.

But each year the kids rise to the challenge, spelling words that many of you reading this -- not to mention me -- would have a difficult time with. This past weekend, it was Shruthi Santhanam, a fourth-grader from Suwanee Elementary, who outlasted the field. She spelled "mosquitoey" to clinch the win, but the word that set up her victory was "felicitous" -- appropriate for someone who enjoyed the good fortune of victory.

One of three judges for the event, I admit to looking ahead on my word sheet in anticipation of the "knockout" words. You can see the tough ones -- like "echinacea" -- coming. Kudos if you know the definition of that word: Any of several cone flowers of the genus Echinacea, having usually pinkish-purple ray flowers.

We didn't get through the entire list, but had the contest continued "bradycardia" would have come up. The definition of that word, however, is not: the quickening of a Patriots fan's pulse after the quarterback is sacked. Just the opposite actually: Slowness of the heart rate, usually fewer than 60 beats per minute in an adult human.

No one had to worry about giving away the contest by spelling "eleemosynary," which means: of, relating to, or dependent on charity. And "hasenpfeffer" wasn't used, which was fine since I wasn't in the mood for a highly seasoned stew of marinated rabbit meat. But "abecedarian" would have been appropriate, since it describes one who teaches or studies the alphabet.

The speller who missed "obstreperous" was not, and I can assure you that the student who missed "ennui" did not have a case of it. It was a worthwhile effort even for the speller who missed "futilitarian" and if the child who lucked out on "ichthyosaur" liked dinosaurs, that is no longer the case after missing that stumper.

On the list, I also liked the word "monophyodont" -- having but one set of teeth -- which is not to be confused with "Mississippiphyodont" -- having no teeth -- which, those who study the word list can tell you, wouldn't be a problem if people used "dentifrice."

E-mail Todd Cline at todd.cline@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Wednesdays.