Thursday, April 10, 2008


Note: Traverse City Senior Spelling Bee will be held May 2, 2008, at Twin Lakes Gilbert Lodge.

It’s strange how relatively unconnected words often end up with the same spelling. Take the word spell, itself: there are 5 nouns and 6 verbs with that letter sequence, all with separate superscripts, which indicates that they have varying etymologies.

Spell-1 started as discourse, narration, speech. It drifted organically into a sermon, which sheds light on the word gospel as coming from good spell-- good message. By the 16th century, it was an incantation, then an enthralling charm.

Coming from a different source, spell-2 was variously defined as a splinter, a chip, a fragment, a bar, a rail, or a rung.

Spell-3 named a relief-gang or work shift, and later an interval of relaxation. Then it was a period of time of indefinite length. It became a weather term (dry spell), and in the 19th century signified a fit, an attack of nervous excitement (fainting spell).

Spell-4 gets around to the common meaning of the term: a way or mode of spelling a word.

The last noun meaning, spell-5, signifies a playhouse or theater.

Turning to the verb forms, spell-1 meant to speak or to preach. Spell-2 meant to read something slowly and deliberately, letter by letter. It drifted into to decipher or to contemplate. Then it meant to write something letter by letter in a prescribed order. To suggest a desire for something was yet another variation.

Spell-3 means to relieve someone at work. It also means to take an interval of rest. Spell-4 means to bewitch or to invest with magical qualities. Spell-5 meant to allow a sail to lie loose in the wind. Spell-6 meant to fit with bars and cross-pieces, or to splinter.

Now I have to go rest a spell.

SIDEBAR: Spell: the band

SIDEBAR: spelling rules

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