The Scripps National Spelling Bee was broadcast a few nights ago on the Ion network, drawing a staggering 14 viewers not including nursing-home residents unable to reach the remote.
And I don’t know about you, but I was spellbound.
The winner was a 12-year-old seventh-grader from Saint Petersburg, Bruhat Soma, who attacked 30 words in 90 seconds and became the best speller in the English language. His winning word was “abseil,” a mountaineering term.
Bruhat received $50,000 in cash prizes, and had to beat away the ladies with a Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary.
I was not a good speller in school. Every year we had a spelling bee and I always bombed. One particular spelling bee sticks out in my mind. My losing word was “purple.”
I never forgot that day. Namely, because nobody let me forget. Other kids were eliminated from the spelling bee with hard words like “onerous,” “munificence,” and “honorificabilitudinitatibus.”
My word was purple.
I knew how to spell purple, of course. Everyone knows how to spell this word. Even many forms of inanimate fungal life know how to spell purple. But in my defense, I was nervous.
And in the heat of the moment, when powerful stage lights are shining on you; when the whole school is assembled in the gymnasium, staring at your face; when Arnold Williamson is making flatulent noises with his hands, that’s a lot of pressure.
Also, my main problem spelling “purple” was that I couldn’t remember whether this word ended in -EL or -LE.
I’ve always had a problem with the stupid -EL, -LE-, -AL rule. Even now, this spelling rule confuses the hele out of me.
And before you write me off as a dork, I looked up this unique spelling rule on a respected grammar website, and here’s what they said:
“…If the letter before the suffix (the ending) is a small or “wee” letter (ACEMNORSUVWXZ) then the ending is usually –EL or –AL. But if the letter is a tall or “deep” letter (BDFGHJKLPTY) then the ending is normally –LE. But watch out, because a single T can break this rule! Also, look for other rule-breaker letters such as, P, K, O, W, X, F, 7, &, and the cosine…”
It’s a wonder we ever beat the Russians to the moon.
When I misspelled the word, everyone laughed at me. And I mean REALLY laughed. One person was laughing so hard he was beating the floor. Which I thought was very rude of our principal.
I walked offstage and I was crying. I felt like the stupidest child to ever live. And I’ll never forget Miss Burns, who was standing in the wings, backstage.
She tucked me into a big hug against her massive bosom. And Miss Burns just pet my hair and said, “Making a mistake is better than faking perfection. Don’t ever forget that.”
And I never did. In fact, I’ve learned so much from mistakes in my life, I’m thinking of making a few more today.
So anyway, I’d like to wish Bruhat Soma a hearty congratulations on winning the Scripps National Spelling Bee. I’m so excited for him my face is turning purpal.

Sean Dietrich is a columnist, novelist and stand-up storyteller known for his commentary on life in the American South. His column appears in newspapers throughout the U.S. He has authored 15 books, he is the creator of the Sean of the South Podcast and he makes appearances at the Grand Ole Opry.