They tell us it’s National Spelling Bee day. I learn that there’s such a thing as “the dreaded schwa.”

Ultimately, the Bee is its own very strange world, and most of us visit for only a day or two a year. It’s a word where the hushed ESPN announcers think nothing of referencing the “dreaded schwa” — a schwa is the sort of “uh” sound that can be made in a word by any of several vowels, like the “a” in “against” or the “o” in “melody.” If it shows up in a word you don’t know, it can be very hard to figure out which letter to choose when spelling the word from hearing it pronounced. Thus: the dreaded schwa.

Oh, sure – you get that in writing, too, of course – those flashes of doubt about a particular schwa in a not very common word. Sometimes spellcheck helps you, and sometimes it doesn’t even know the word – mine didn’t recognize “rebarbative” this morning. Seriously?! Such an excellent word, plus I’ve used it before and your spellcheck is supposed to know you.

There’s a guy on local public radio here – Bill O’Grady – who drives me crazy by over-enunciating so much that he pronounces e-schwas as if they were ee. Beelieve, reeject, deecide, and so on. He’d make a hash of writing poetry, because he keeps turning iambs into dactyls.


15 Responses to “Scansion”