Danecdotes: Tales of a Fourth Grade Speller

Covering the recent local spelling bees brought back plenty of memories


Over the past few weeks, I was the lucky one at the Echo Journal who got to cover both the Pequot Lakes and the Pine River-Backus district spelling bees.

I don’t mean that sarcastically. I actually really enjoy spelling bees. If I have some free time when the National Spelling Bee is on this summer, I’ll probably watch some of it.

This stems from my own time as a young speller. In my early school days, I got my best marks in spelling. I took part in all of the school spelling bees, and actually won several of them.

As I watched these PR-B and Pequot Lakes students at the podium spelling their various words, I was instantly taken back to my own days behind that podium - saying the word, spelling it and saying it again.

The spellmaster at Pequot Lakes told the contestants “you never forget the words you spell wrong.” I have to admit, I remember almost none of the words I spelled correctly in these competitions, while some of the ones I misspelled are permanently etched in my brain.


I recall going to a sort of regional spelling bee in fourth or fifth grade (I went to a parochial school until sixth grade and the spelling bee rules were a little different) where the word “chlorophyll” came up.

If you can believe it, that word may be a little too tough for the average fourth- or fifth-grader.

I would bet 10 kids sat down before that word came to me. It was my chance to knock a huge number of contestants out of the competition.

Except I got the word wrong too.

I sat down slightly dejected. Surely one of the eight to 10 contestants still left standing knew how to spell “chlorophyll.”

Only they didn’t. Everyone was knocked out on that word. Therefore, everyone who spelled it wrong got to come back into the competition.

I believe I took third that year, so I would say I lucked out a little bit there.

My last regional spelling bee in eighth grade saw me get fairly deep into the competition. After spelling several words correctly - almost none of which I can recall today - I came to the word “corduroy.”


Here’s the thing: I knew how to spell that word. I would argue it isn’t that hard of a word. I don’t know if it was nerves or something, but I somehow switched the “o” and the “u” when I started rattling off letters.

It has been almost 19 years since that competition. In that time, I have never misspelled “corduroy” again.

It’s a little crazy when you think about it, isn’t it? A pretty simple mistake that anyone can make - one that probably didn’t have much of an impact on the course of my life - can just be completely cemented in my mind for two decades, and likely several more decades to come.

But hey, maybe it’s things like “chlorophyll” and “corduroy” that made me into a writer. Maybe those little mistakes have done more to shape my life than I thought they would.

Who knows? Make sure your kids are studying those spelling words, I guess.

Dan Determan may be reached at 218-855-5879 or Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter at

Dan Determan - Danecdotes.jpg
Dan Determan, PineandLakes Echo Journal Writer

Dan Determan has been a reporter for the Echo Journal since 2014, primarily covering sports at Pequot Lakes and Pine River-Backus
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