Vacillating Between Gnathonic Schwarmerei and Weltzchmerz

It’s hard to know what one could possibly say about this Mental Floss article on “13 Words That Knocked Out Scripps National Spelling Bee Finalists” other than to admit that it makes me feel stupid — an unpleasant (but common enough) occurrence.

My favorite example of a word I could never spell (and that I might not even have realized existed before reading MF’s article?) “Schwarmerei” — a word that has eliminated finalists twice in the last 10 years. Yep, that’s right. TWICE. (That’s the Spelling Bee equivalent of a dynasty.)

1. SCHWARMEREI, 2012 & 2004.
Note to future contestants: Learn the correct spelling of this German origin noun, which means excessive sentimentality, as it has knocked out two contestants in the final round in the past decade. One was 13-year-old Akshay Buddiga in 2004, who had famously fainted on stage only to get back up and correctly spell “alopecoid” earlier in the competition.

A couple more favorites:

5. OCHIDORE, 2010.
A little-used word for a shore crab. “Crustacean” would have been so much easier!

10. WELTSCHMERZ, 2006.
A state of depression or apathy as a result of accepting the actual state of the world as opposed to an idealized version. Yep, sounds about right.

13. GNATHONIC, 2003.
The “g” is silent in this adjective (which means fawning or obsequious), which explains its unfortunate omission in eighth-grader Evelyn Blacklock’s spelling of it in the final round.

As a bonus, last night’s second-place stumbling block was “cyanophycean.” Which means…something, I’m sure. Hang on a sec. “Any member of the Myxophyceae.” Thanks, Merriam-Webster! That’s just “great!” More helpful than saying something like “of or pertaining to a class of blue-green algae?” Probably not. But a heck of a lot more impressive.

A hearty, awed congrats to Arvind Mahankali, winner of this year’s bee. Fourth time’s the charm, as they say. Also, no. I had no idea what “knaidel” meant before reading that article. In fact, this whole episode has produced a pretty a heavy bout of weltschmerz. With the “able assistance” of these grade-school logophiles, I am now more convinced than ever that I can’t spell worth a lick, forcing me to sorrowfully accept “the actual state of the world, as opposed to an idealized version.” (The only known remedy for curing Spelling Bee-induced weltschmerz? Watching the charming Akeelah and the Bee. Back me up on this one, Steven!)

…I wonder what this post’s title actually means…

About Joseph Susanka

Joseph has been doing development work for institutions of Catholic higher education since graduating from Thomas Aquinas College in 1999. A grateful resident of Wyoming, he spends his free time exploring the beautiful Wind River Mountains, keeping track of his (currently) seven sons, being amazed by his (currently) lone daughter, and thanking his lucky stars for Netflix.

  • Fabio Paolo Barbieri

    I’m afraid you misspelled the S-word throughout. It must be spelled either (Germany) with an umlaut over the A or (Austria) as SCHWAERMEREI. Which kind of proves the point anyway.

    • Joseph Susanka

      In my “defense,” Fabio, I slavishly/unthinkingly copied the spelling used in the “Mental Floss” article. But you’re right. That’s pretty much the point: I have absolutely no idea how to spell something like that.

      I love umlauts, though. Maybe I’ll change it, just so I can use the umlaut.

  • Rebecca Fuentes

    Based on the title, I thought the post would be about German composers or music. At least I got a language of origin right!

    • Joseph Susanka

      That would certainly have been consistent with my previous tendencies, Rebecca. In recompense, I promise to give you a Baroque German Composer post in the near future.

      • Rebecca Fuentes

        I used to teach English, so I was not at all disappointed to find a post about spelling and spelling competitions instead. What is it about the Germans and their knack for summing up a complex idea in a single (long, difficult to spell) word?

        • Joseph Susanka

          That’s exactly how I felt when I saw “weltschmerz,” Rebecca. I’d never seen (or even heard) of that word before, but it perfectly captures a complex (or at least abstract) emotion. Perhaps not in an easy way (spelling-wise), but impressive, none the less..