Bee season is now at full tilt, with some regions already claiming representatives to the national bee this year. I’ve been witness to at least one district-level bee, and have heard about three or so other bees. For the most part, they’re running smoothly. But there’s always room for improvement, right?

So far, I have four lessons I could impart to organizers and pronouncers.

  1. Make sure the pronouncer knows how to pronounce the words.
  2. The pronouncer’s role is to pronounce and give pertinent information about the word, and to spell the word correctly when a student misspells. Nothing more.
  3. The pronouncer should stick with the word list during the bee as determined prior to the bee.
  4. The pronouncer is NOT a judge.

Let’s address these lessons piecemeal.

As to the first item, this is about as basic as you can get. When someone has agreed to be the pronouncer for a bee, they have agreed to pronounce words correctly. It is ideal to choose a pronouncer who has a flat, Midwestern accent, as this is widely recognized as the standard for American English. I have been in bees where the pronouncer had a strong Noo Yawk accent, which was amusing at times, but potentially flirting with multiple unnecessary protests.

Also, when someone has agreed to be the pronouncer for a bee, they have agreed to know how to pronounce the words correctly, and if they are unfamiliar, to learn how to pronounce them ahead of time. Mispronunciation is a huge reason behind protests, both successful and unsuccessful. To use an egregious example I recently heard about, there is no excuse for the pronunciation of the word “verdure” to be so botched that the poor speller thinks that “bourgeois” might be the right spelling. Fortunately, there was an uproar about the mispronunciation, and once the speller heard the right pronunciation, she rattled “verdure” off with no hesitation. The judges decided to keep her in. And this mistake, if not corrected, would have resulted in this speller not qualifying for state. I have a sneaking suspicion that these types of mistakes are far too common, with resulting unfair results.

More to come.