I now know three things: Americans go c-r-a-z-y for spelling as sport; a crapaud is a Caribbean toad; and a 13-year-old kid from New York has made us all look stupid.
Arvind Mahankali was celebrating over the weekend after winning the Scripps Spelling Bee, a US institution broadcast live to more than a million spelling fans.
But just how smart is the boy? To find out, Kristen, an American colleague and veteran of one spelling bee when she was “about nine”, printed off the 10 words Arvind got right on his route to victory – and put me to the test.
“Glossophagine. Of a bat with a long extensile tongue. Glossophagine.” Er, glosso-what? A pattern was set. Trichocercous (having a spiny tail), galere (group having a common quality), thonnier (Breton fishing boat), chalumeau (reed instrument). I got them all wrong.
Dehnstufe (Indo-European vowel), crapaud (the toad), kaumographer (one transferring designs to clothing), tokonoma (niche in Japanese house). Fail, fail, fail.
I triumphed with the last word but only because I’d watched a video of Arvind nailing it. Knaidel: a small mass of leavened dough. The national spelling bee, made famous in the Oscar-nominated 2002 documentary, Spellbound, was started in 1925 and involves up to a million students in the earliest, regional rounds.
Like me, Arvind has now retired from spelling bees after winning at his third attempt. Asked how he planned to celebrate, he said: “I shall spend the summer studying physics.”