It was back in fifth grade English class. We had spelling bees.
The rules were: teacher randomly picks someone from the class,
who goes to the head of the class, and then others in the class
can challenge that student to spell any word in the dictionary.
He has to spell it out loud, as well as write it on the board.
He stays up at the front of the class as long as he keeps getting
the spelling right.
I loved these spelling bees. One time, when I knew there was
going to be one the next day, I spent much of the previous night
reading the dictionary looking for tough words. I randomly
came across "pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis".
It was only in Webster's 7th Collegiate, I found; other
dictionaries only offered the short form, "pneumoconiosis".
But I knew I had my word. I spent all night writing it out,
rehearsing how to pronounce it, researching the meaning, looking
up "black lung" and other related mining-related diseases.
I did my homework on this word.
The next day, at the spelling bee, sure enough, when it came
to my turn to challenge the kid at the front of the class, I
spoke, in a very deadpan tone, asking him to spell,
"pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis." The class shrieked
and laughed. The teacher said no way is that a word. I had
my dictionary with me. I showed the teacher. It was a word.
Sure enough, I stumped the kid and got to go to the front of
the class. The teacher told me to spell the word out on the
board. This was one of those wide, wide chalkboards which
extended from one corner of the room to the other -- and this was
a wide room. So I went to the far left side of the board and
began writing in huge letters, "p n e u m o n o . . ." all the
way across the board to the far right edge, walking along as
I spelled it out. Then I turned to look out at the class.
The faces of the kids as well as the teacher were a mixture of
awe and confusion, as if they were a moment away from figuring
out the punch line of a tricky joke they'd just been told.
Then they all let out a huge laugh, and I joined with them.
It was indeed hilarious to look at how big that forty-five-letter
Long story short, I won that spelling bee, and as far as I can
recall, we never had another one after that.