How One Spelling Bee Gave Me An Eye For Editing

How One Spelling Bee Gave Me An Eye For Editing

I’ve never won a spelling bee. I participated in a few during elementary school and junior high, when the words didn’t sound like they came from a 10-pound medical textbook.

The most memorable (for me, at least) happened when I was in fourth grade. That year, I made it to the school finals with maybe 20 other kids. What was so unforgettable about this particular spelling bee? It lasted only 15 minutes.

They had arranged us in alphabetical order. Since my last name starts with “W-o,” I was the second to the last speller. The first word of the competition was “odd.” Pretty easy, right? Imagine my surprise when the first kid said, “Odd, o-d-d, odd” and the judge said, “I’m sorry, that’s incorrect.” This pattern continued as confused spellers repeated the same exact thing, and met with the same fate.

By the time it was my turn, I was in a state of mild panic. Somehow, I worked up the courage to ask, “Can you please use the word in a sentence?” I had an “ah-ha” moment. Then I said, “Awed, a-w-e-d, awed” and the 18 kids before me were eliminated.

I don’t remember the word that knocked me out. I think it was one of those “i before e except after c” words. But the end did come quickly. And even though I didn’t win, I felt pretty pleased with my “awed” triumph.

From that point on, I developed an eagle eye for typos and grammatical errors. When I look at a document, the errors seem to glow. Imagine the kid in Sixth Sense who says, “I see dead people.” I see typos. When you work in marketing, this skill is critical. When I come across these mistakes, I cringe as I remember those 18 kids who said, “odd, o-d-d, odd.”

The biggest, most successful organizations full of talented people miss typos every day. I once received a confirmation email from Facebook. The first line reads: “John Doe confirmed your request to list his as family on Facebook.” I was shocked, wondering how someone could miss such a glaring error.

Although we live in a world of casual communications, we still need to spell words correctly and use proper grammar. Someone with an eagle eye might notice our mistakes. And we definitely don’t want to experience an “odd, o-d-d, odd” moment.