Words are veteran spelling bee pronouncer's life (w/video)

Sara  Sneath By Sara Sneath

March 15, 2014 at 9:05 p.m.
Updated March 15, 2014 at 10:16 p.m.

Earline Grizzle, 87, the previous pronouncer for the spelling bee, at her home in Victoria. "I loved to see the joy on their faces," she said about the children who competed in the spelling bee.

Earline Grizzle, 87, the previous pronouncer for the spelling bee, at her home in Victoria. "I loved to see the joy on their faces," she said about the children who competed in the spelling bee.

Earline Grizzle began her day by reading through a book of words that are commonly confused.

"When do you use further, and when do you use farther? Well, distinctions like that have always been of interest to me," Grizzle, 87, said.

On the bookshelf of her 1978 bungalow in northeastern Victoria, Grizzle has more than 20 years worth of regional spelling bee word lists. In each booklet, she marked the contestants who advanced and the words they got out on.

"I have lots of happy memories of those days. It was something that gave me great personal joy to see kids who had studied so hard, and well, it's difficult not to cry when I think about how many tears the kids shed," Grizzle said.

Grizzle was the regional spelling bee pronouncer from 1991 to 2012 and a speech professor at Victoria College for 32 years.

In 2002, after a mini-stroke, Grizzle retired from Victoria College. Last summer, Grizzle had a benign brain tumor removed. She now walks with the aid of a walker, but it is her continued study of words that has aided her through her change in speech and slight memory loss.

"Her 90 percent is better than most of our 100 percent," said Dennis Grizzle, 88, her husband of 66 years.

What do you think makes a good spelling bee pronouncer?

I think that a love of words comes first. And, obviously, I've got that. I taught myself to read. I had an older brother who was going to school, and I taught myself to read from his reading books. I've been reading all my life. And you can look in my house and see all the books I have and know that I'm a lover of words. I have 40 dictionaries. And now, I have an iPad. My favorite thing to do on my iPad is to read the dictionary. I look up a word, and then I get entranced and continue going down the words.

Do you have a favorite dictionary?

The one I use the most is American Heritage Dictionary. It's my favorite. I started out of course with Webster's. I just love words so much it doesn't matter to me which dictionary it is.

Do you think a regional accent is expected when you're doing the pronouncing?

Well, most of the kids are from this region, and so we have the liberty of leaving out a word if it's something that the pronouncer thinks will be too difficult for anybody in this region. For example: The word "ki-o-te." Everybody here calls it "ki-oat." And so if that word were on the list, I would skip it because I would know that that's not a word they would recognize from the pronunciation because everybody around here says "ki-oat."

Do you think there's some kind of personal growth you get from having a bigger vocabulary?

Oh, certainly. It's just like learning another language. To have another word to replace the one you want. I see that personally right now because this brain condition that I've got now that they took the tumor out and left a space for my brain to go back into. Words are hard for me to find right now. But if I've got another word that I can substitute - of course, if I call Colorado California that's not an adequate substitute, and I might do that. Your brain is a funny thing. Since my surgery last summer, I have really been fascinated by my own experience of what a brain will and will not do.

You've spent your whole life adding words to your vocabulary. How does it feel now losing them?

Well, you know when you lose a word when you're looking for it, and you can't find it; you know you've lost it. But just sitting here I can't make a list of the words that I don't have. Except that it's frustrating in a situation like this when I once made my living teaching speech, and now, I cannot speak properly. That bothers me. That I'm hesitant. That I look for words. That I pause. That I can't find the word. That's a real bother to me. It truly is. But it doesn't seem to bother the people I'm talking to.



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