By DAN WHITTLE
Words are powerful.
Words can build character, slur you to a slouch, bring tears down both legs in gut-combustion laughter, take down tyrants and/or make national leaders.
America's greatness started from founders with vast word capabilities while crafting our Constitution and Declaration of Independence.
The words they used guaranteeing individual freedoms, including "freedom of religion" and "freedom of the press," have had the staying power to create the most powerful and blessed nation in world history.
Some of America's most powerful spoken words have come from pulpits…such as "a dancing foot cannot be attached to a praying knee…" That's awesome verbiage straight out of an ancient foot-washing Baptist sermon in the remote mountains of North Carolina.
"I have a dream," ring eternal from the lips of the late Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King.
I owe a writing career to boyhood farm neighbor A.J. Neel, a self-taught learned man who introduced me to library books with this prophetic instruction: "Words can take you around the world, Danny Boy."
I partially learned to read before formal school days from Bible picture books and looking at ‘girly pictures’ in Sears-Roebuck catalogues.
How else could I explain to first grade teacher Billie Margaret Greer how I knew to spell "brassiere." Ahem!!
Americanized English can be tricky, particularly in spoken vernacular, such as "their" and "there" not to mention "stares" and "stairs"!!
Editors of my stories down through the decades have approved both spellings of "loathe" and "loath"…words that nearly took me out of the recent Celebrity Spelling Bee, a fun fund-raiser for Rutherford County's successful "Read To Suceed" non-profit group that promotes literacy.
Drama built in the packed Patterson Park auditorium as I pondered, and finally tacked an "e" on loathe to barely stay in the competition ahead of that dastardly disqualifying bell.
It was great fun, but pressure-packed too, for I was up against some of the smartest people my community has to offer, such as Smyrna veterinarian Dr. LeAnne Duffey.
For the record, veterinarian is one of the most misspelled words in newspapering. Smyrna seems to be mispronounced more than misspelled.
Fans of literacy cheered with laughter when veterinarian Dr. Duffey was asked to spell "fleas."
Spelling Bee entrants, including myself, all moaned in shared pain when a medical man contestant failed to spell "diagnosis" straight out of the chute.
When I successfully spelled "sidewalk" to pass the second round of competition, I gave a shout out to WGNS Radio talk show personality Truman Jones out in the audience, for I had heard him wagering with pal Hooper Penuel before the competition that “Whittle won't make it past second round.”
Contestant Dr. Mary Moss impressed the audience and competitors when she successfully spelled "speculum" while contestant Mitchell Mote nailed the spelling of "manure" with obvious familiarity.
My personal deodorant had a chemical meltdown when a simple six-letter word, "fedora," nearly proved my undoing in the fifth round.
That's when I looked at my pretty cheer-leading wife, Patricia, and bragged "I'm still up here" in front of the more than 300 literacy supporters out in the audience.
Finally, it was between me and contestant Don Clayton in the spell-off round. Thirteen very smart people had failed words ranging from "exaggerate" to "philosophize" to narrow it down to two still standing.
When Clayton spelled "surrealist" correctly, I knew he was a word man. He'd also spelled "feign" and did not hesitate when spelling "tentativeness."
In the playoff round, I handled "hospice" and "epilepsy" but it was a word beginning with "m" that took me under: "Dan Whittle, your word is 'mezzanine,'" instructed master of ceremonies Bart Walker, chief voice of WGNS Radio.
I began slowly, trying to visualize the word…going uh oh!!?? worried in my mind before blurting out with no confidence: "M-E-Z-A-N-I-N-E."
That's when the judges' disqualifying bell went "ding dong" as in "wrong"!!
Nothing, but "cholera" stood between Don ‘Cool’ Clayton and 2012 Spelling Bee travelling trophy held since 2011 by friend Kristen Demos.
Being a competitor after I missed on my word, I attempted to put a Whittle hex on ‘Cool’ Clayton, but to my dismay: he spelled "C-H-O-L-E-R-A" loud and clear!!
Being an executive with Ingram Books, of La Vergne, Clayton proved himself a worthy word man.
Hats off to the volunteer folks who donate their talents, time and finances to help others learn to "Read To Succeed!!"