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He can pronounce 'syllepsis'

By Associated Press,
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 26, 2003

BURLINGTON, Vt. - Syllepsis, eudaemonic, smaragdine. Odontalgia, staphylococci, antipyretic.

It's words like these that delight Jacques Bailly, a University of Vermont classics professor who will serve as official pronouncer at the annual Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee (www.spellingbee.com) in Washington on Wednesday and Thursday.

The pronouncer's job is to stand on stage with the spellers and recite the word properly; give its definition, language of origin, and part of speech; and use the word in a sentence.

Bailly (pronounced like "Bailey") brings to the job a knowledge of Latin, Greek, French and German. He has studied Arabic as well and can read some Italian.

The 37-year-old Bailly is also a former National Spelling Bee champion himself; he won as a Denver eighth-grader in 1980 with "elucubrate" - a word meaning "to work far into the night," or "to work studiously."

Officials of the spelling bee work all year on compiling the 800-word spelling list, and Bailly gets a top-secret copy in early spring so that he can start studying and practicing.

This is Bailly's first year as the lead pronouncer; he was associate pronouncer for 12 years. He served at the elbow of longtime pronouncer Alex J. Cameron, making sure Cameron said each word correctly.

Cameron, who died in February, mispronounced words a few times over the years but immediately corrected himself, said Paige Kimble, the director of the bee and the 1981 champion.

Bailly said that a pronouncer has to be careful not to "overpronounce" a word - that is, enunciate with an artificial emphasis that gives away too much about the way the word is spelled.

For example, if the word were "unutterable," he said, "I am not allowed to pronounce that word in a way that makes it clear to you that it ends in "able' and not "ible.' Basically, I am supposed to give only the pronunciations in the dictionary, and no others."

In the days before the national bee, Bailly will meet with bee officials to go over every word again, and remove any that fail last-minute tests - including one that Bailly calls "the giggle factor."

"A word like "titillation' might cause a sixth-, seventh- or eighth-grader to giggle," he said.

The winner this year will take home more than $12,000, an engraved cup and other prizes.

Bailly advises spellers to relax, enjoy themselves and, if they don't know the word, keep the spelling simple.

"If you get fancy, you just explode the possibilities," he said. "There's an infinite number of ways to screw up a word."

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