Lawyer to mind his p's and q's at bee


Kids aren't the only ones studying for Friday's Howard County Library Spelling Bee.

Patrick Clancy, a Washington lawyer who has been recruited to be this year's "pronouncer," has been spending quite a bit of time with words, too.

Fifty-one pupils, winners in their school spelling bees, will compete at 7 p.m. at Jim Rouse Theatre at Wilde Lake High School in the second regional competition. The winner will earn a $1,000 scholarship and a trip to the May 28-June 2 National Spelling Bell in Washington. The runner-up will earn a $750 prize.

As pronouncer, Clancy's job is to say aloud the words that the competitors will spell. If the spellers ask, he must also repeat the word, give a definition, tell its part of speech, use the word in a sentence, and give its language of origin.

All that information is provided in the 2006 Sponsor Bee Guide Book I provided by Scripps-Howard, which sets the structure for the regional and national competitions, he said.

"You read through the words and then you note words that are problematic for whatever reason and you go back and you focus on those words," Clancy said. "I'm spending certainly a certain amount of time each day."

He said the task is harder than it looked at first glance. The spelling bee guide, which is based on Webster's Third International Dictionary, comes with pronunciation symbols -- and the dictionary Web site even has a pronunciation function -- but preparing for the event is still tough.

Even words that look simple can have different pronunciations based on their parts of speech, Clancy noted. He wouldn't give examples because he didn't want to give any words away, but a word such as "live" falls into this category, changing pronunciation if it is used as a verb or adjective.

Even words he thinks he knows can be tricky because they must be pronounced as they would be in spoken American English, he said. So a word like "graduated," for example, is pronounced "graduaded" in spoken English, he said. "Mitten" is another example of a word that is pronounced differently when it is read aloud, compared with when it is spoken.

"There's a distinction between reading a word and saying a word, and that's the challenge I'm finding as a pronouncer," he said. "You're to pronounce the word as it is spoken in American English."

While pupils must study 5,000 words from a book called the Paiedia, Clancy needs to know only about 500, he said. But the pronunciations are important, and all ears will be on him to make sure he doesn't goof.

"The pronouncer's job is probably the toughest job in a spelling bee," said Richard W. Story, chief executive officer of the Howard County Economic Development Authority, who was pronouncer last year and will emcee the 2006 event.

"I am willing to do whatever role I am called on to make the event successful," he said. "I think to be emcee and pronouncer at the same time is a huge burden." Last year, he said, there was no emcee per se, and "frankly, that's where I have the greatest skill, so that's where they deployed me this year."

That means less work for him.

"I spent an incredible amount of time going through each of the 500 words," Story said of his 2005 preparations. "I probably spent about 20 hours going through the book," he said.

He estimated that as many as 200 of the words were new to him. Words like "papilionaceous" -- resembling a butterfly -- could eat up anybody's time.

The Scripps National Spelling Bee is 79 years old, but Howard County residents have been involved only since last year, when the library system held the county's first regional bee.

To qualify for the library's regional bee, pupils must be spelling bee winners in their public or private school, or a home schooling association, said Christie Lassen, head of marketing and publicity for the library.

In the first year, 38 Howard pupils competed, she said. Each school sends a contestant and an alternate, she said. As it happens, last year's champion, Priyanka Chavan of Fulton Elementary School, has moved away, and the runner-up, Sydney Speizman of Glenelg Country School, is an alternate this year, Lassen said.

Putting together the event is easier the second time around, she said, but it still takes a lot of work. In addition to Story and Clancy, the library has recruited top local officials to serve as judges, including County Council Chairman Christopher J. Merdon and Councilman Ken Ulman, both candidates for county executive, and Sen. Sandra B. Schrader. School board member Courtney Watson will serve as the head judge for the second year.

They've all been involved in meetings and walk-throughs to make sure the event runs smoothly. Clancy said he is happy to spend the time preparing for the bee.

Free tickets for the spelling bee at Jim Rouse Theatre at Wilde Lake High School, 5460 Trumpeter Road in Columbia, are available by calling 410 313-7750. Tickets might also be available at the door.

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