The Word Master Tom Zingarelli, dressed in full tam and regalia repeated the word: “Williwaw…a noun. A sudden, violent wind.”
For the first time that evening, the three men on stage dressed in matching blue fish hats looked perplexed, perhaps even a bit concerned.
As for their opponents, it was impossible to read their expressions under the thick layers of zombie makeup.”
The word williwaw is of unknown origin, but its earliest use was by British Seaman in the 19th Century,” continued Zingarelli.
The timer began its 20-second countdown.
This was the fifth word of the final round of the New Haven Reads Spelling Bee, which took place recently at Yale’s School of Management.
On paper, “williwaw” is obvious, but in the moment its mysterious nature was a fitting follow-up to challenging words like “aardwolf” and “consigliere.”
Out of the original 42 teams, only the “Phessi,” the three fish-hatted men from the Yale Linguistics Department, and the zombie “Librarians… From Hell!,” representing the Hamden Public Library, remained.
WTNH anchors and spelling bee emcees Ann Nyberg and Keith Kountz looked at each other.
“I think they’re both going to get this one,” Nyberg remarked.
But when the timer hit zero and the two teams lifted their boards, the Yale Linguistics department was short an “L”. The Librarians… From Hell!, victorious, would have their name inscribed on the trophy.
When Nyberg asked how they knew the word “williwaw,” one of the undead librarians responded, “I didn’t. I made it up in my head.”
More than a night of triumph or heartbreak, the bee is an annual fundraiser for New Haven Reads, raising critical funds and awareness for their free literacy programs. This year’s event was presented by a group of local businesses, including HPC Food Service, The Russell Hall Company, and Anthony Dioguardi D.M.D., who came together under the guidance of Claire Criscuolo of Chapel Street mainstay Claire’s Corner Copia.
Over 120 costumed spellers participated in the event, representing a number of local institutions, including The Study at Yale and the Yale Center for British Art.
But, more than just fun and games, the annual bee also offered the audience an important reminder of problems closer to home. Connecticut public schools frequently rank among the country’s best, yet less than 30 percent of New Haven third-graders are able to read at or above grade level.
New Haven Reads is aiming to drastically change that number. Executive Director Kirsten Levinsohn states, “We serve over 500 students weekly in our one-on-one tutoring program, yet we still have a sizable waiting list of over 120 students. We are always in need of new volunteer tutors!”
With almost $30,000 raised from the packed event at the Yale School of Management, it’s safe to say that the spelling bee was a success. For more information, please visit the organization’s website.