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Spell bound to success


Spelling Whiz: Ananmika Veeramani is all smiles. Photo: AP

If spelling was always your bête noire, meet the stars of the Spelling Bee contest held recently at Washington D.C to get a glimpse of their prowess…

Can you spell ‘omphaloskepsis’? Or ‘hydrargyrum’? If you happened to be an Indian-American school kid being raised in the US, you probably would.

Last year I watched 12 year old Kavya Shivashankar confidently spell out, letter by letter: “L-A-O-D-I-C-E-A-N” and after a moment’s deafening silence, heard an eruption of applause. Kavya had won the USA Spelling Bee 2009 championship before a world-wide live TV audience, which included myself. (And I learnt a new word that day; though I am still waiting for the right opportunity, perhaps at a party, to stun people by casually saying ‘Oh, I feel rather laodicean about politics’ – which I hope you know means ‘luke-warm or indifferent’) .

Siblings revel

And now there’s a sibling too. Apparently the Shivashankar household in Kansas has bred one more word-genius, and she can spell ‘axalotl’ as easily as you can spell fish (now don’t say you didn’t know axalotl is a kind of fish.) Well Vanya does, and she is—just hold your breath—only eight! And the youngest in this year’s contest.

And while I admit I am bit of a chatterbox, only a Spelling Bee winner could possibly have described my compulsive talkativeness as logorrhoea, and what’s more spell it correctly too. As young Nupur Lala did at the finals some years ago—making me permanently hooked to this annual blood-less sport which is even covered by ESPN.

Well, I have something to tell all those proud parents and kids who can go from ‘herniorrhaphy’ to ‘deipnosophist’ to ‘iliopsoas’ without any feeling of ‘amarevole’ ( I think that last word means a tinge of sadness. Perhaps you’d better start watching Spelling Bee too if you’d like to keep up with mere school kids, and me…). I would like to say that there’s one speller that can fox even a Spelling Bee champ, and that is Spell-Check on our computers.

Because the Spell-Check—which nastily underlines every misspelt word with a red curly-wurly line (hey, it just underlined the word mispelt itself! Sorry, should that have been misspelled?)—can correct words like no 11-year old school kid can.

Mr Spell-Check is a vigilant fellow and among the things he really hates are Indian names. He is quick to underline a potential mistake, and then gives us helpful suggestions so that even our names can be corrected to good, pure American English.

Look what happened when I tried to email a person named Raghu Manikam, who, my pal told me, would help me find a really good driver for my brand new Hyundai car.

Dear Mr Raghu Manikam, I typed. Immediately the curly-wurly lines appeared. So out of curiosity I clicked Spell-Check. Well Raghu got corrected to Rogue and Manikam led to Maniac. You can bet I abandoned that letter at once as I didn’t want any kind of rogue maniac driving me around.

Alarmed at what Spell-Check was trying to do to our glorious Indian names, I tried a few more… Next to me was a film magazine with the cheesiest picture of Mallika Sherawat. So I randomly typed out Mallika—and guess what Spell-Check had to say? You’re not going to believe this: ‘Man-like’. Ha! Anything but, you may argue…

Just then my pal Shobha called. “Shobha” I typed on my comp, even as I began speaking with her. Swiftly came the corrected spelling on the screen before me: “Hey Shobs!” I interrupted her. “Do you know you are actually a ‘Cobra’?” I don’t think Shobha was amused at all. More surprises, or should I say more character assassinations happened, as I typed all my dear pals names. Priya was ‘Prey’ and Shyam unfortunately was ‘Shame’. Radhika was declared ‘Radical’ and Pratibha was a ‘Pariah”.

More blasphemy followed as my good-natured pal Sadhana turned up as ‘Satan’, and my trusted friend Chetan came out as ‘Cheat’. And my gregarious, nutty cousin Sudha was inexplicably corrected to Buddha.

Turn to the bard

At last some favourable matches came along, as my sea-crazy sister Shuba was ‘Scuba’ and my clever pal Nitya was ‘Nifty’. And Suguna, considering her laid-back lifestyle, came out appropriately as ‘Sauna’.

Meanwhile think what the Americans could have done to set right Shakespeare and all his weird spellings. If only Spell-Check had been invented in 1600! He couldn’t have got away with “Thou villaine Capulet. Hold me not, let me go

Thou shalt not stir a foote to seeke a Foe” (Tragedie of Romeo and Juliet)

But even the good old Bard was honest to admit that spellings and punctuation were not his forte.

I know, because I just tried out an anagram of his name.

William Shakespeare re-arranged becomes “I am a weakish speller’.


Tamil girl Anamika Veeramani, 14, declared 2010 US SPELLING BEE Winner

Confidently spelling S-T-R-O-M-U-H-R, Anamika Veeramani, a Tamilian from Ohio won the $40,000 Scripps Spelling Bee Prize in Washington on June 4, beating Shantanu Srivastav in the final round.

The words Anamika spelt correctly in the finals to win are:

‘juvia’, ‘epiphysis’, ‘nahcolite’, ‘mirin’, and ‘osteomyelitis’

This makes it the third consecutive year win for Indo-Americans.

The final winning words

that kids of Indian origin in the US have spelt correctly to win, in the last 10 years:

l 2009: LAODICEAN by Kavya Shivashankar

2008: GUERDON by Sameer Mishra

2005: APPOGGIATURA by Anurag Kashyap

2003: POCOCURANTE by Sai Gunturi

2002: PROSPICIENCE by Pratyush Buddiga

2000: DEMARCHE by George Thampy

Report by

Indu Balachandran E-mail:



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