Have you heard about the controversy over the winner of the Scripps National Spelling Bee? Not the fact that the winner was juicing. I mean, he was, but it was with, y'know, juice; the kid's thirteen years old, for Pete's sake! No, I'm talking about the controversy over the fact that Arvind Mahankali was declared the winner after "correctly" spelling the word 'knaidel.' Turns out that the proper spelling of this delicious Judaic treat is a matter of some dispute.
Well, what do you expect? We Jews are a classically disputatious bunch. And, in fairness, 'knaidel,' being derived from a language (Yiddish) that does not use the Roman alphabet, really has no "standard" spelling. Thus, reasonable people--or, for that matter, people who bicker over the results of spelling bees--can disagree over whether the proper spelling is 'knaidel,' 'kneidel,' 'knaydl,' or 'jysnofsky'--the spelling is whatever enough people agree it is. Or, for the purposes of Scripps, whatever Webster's Third New International Dictionary--the tournament's official arbiter of all things orthographical--says it is.
I've never really understood what someone proves by doing well on a spelling bee. Some folks associate good spelling with intelligence, but, truly, all Mahankali proved is that he has a freakishly good memory. Still, I guess this could lead to a lucrative career debugging spell-checkers. I guess someone's got to do it.
I do have one request: Could SportsCenter please stop covering the spelling bee? I mean, whether you consider the contest a charming throwback to a simpler era or just a moment in the sun for the nerdiest among us--or both--I think we can all agree that spelling is not a sport! What's next? ESPN will start covering soccer?