Style Conversational Week 1445: Could you use the word in a poem, please?
The Empress of The Style Invitational on this week’s new contest and results

Zaila Avant-garde gains instant stardom after spelling “Murraya,” a plant genus, on July 8 to win the Scripps National Spelling Bee. She should write a poem using one of the bee words and try for the Clowning Achievement! (Joe Skipper/Reuters)
Pat Myers
July 15, 2021 at 5:11 p.m. EDT

Let’s get sesquipedalian!

This week’s Style Invitational contest, Week 1445, isn’t as likely as some Invites to be a coffee-spitter. But our recurring contest for poems based on words from the year’s National Spelling Bee has always generated good material and more than a few laughs: It’s in keeping with the Invite’s tradition of mixing the haughty and the potty.

As I did in our 2019 contest (the bee was canceled last year), I’m inviting you to use any of the words used in Round 8 and later, easily accessed this year at the bee’s redesigned website. (Make sure you use the correct spelling of the word, not the way a losing kid misspelled it; there are two columns!) And if you don’t want to check round after round, just go to the bottom of this week’s contest for a list of 25 words that seem fairly promising to me.

I recommend that before you write the poem, you should confirm your understanding of the definition by finding the word actually used or explained, not just in a list of spelling/vocabulary words. Or at least look at a few definitions from various dictionaries and glossaries. For instance, the definition of “aphyllous” at, Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, just says “destitute of foliage leaves,” since the full definition is only in the premium unabridged version. But Googling the word, I found a list of biology words on that makes it clear an aphyllous plant never develops leaves, not that it’s dropped its leaves for the winter, or got sick.

For inspiration and to give you an idea of what we’re looking for, here’s some classic ink from our four previous Spelling Bee poetry contests.

Week 716 (2007):

Noctilucous (noc-ti-LU-cous), shining at night:

On a moonlighted stroll, my sweet love did profess

That my fair face was quite noctilucous;

My heart skipped a beat, but I have to confess:

What shone from my nose was some mucus. (Anne Paris)

Strigil (strid-jil), a sweat-scraper:

For cleaning off, the Romans

Scraped themselves with iron strigils —

But folks back then, you understand,

Were tougher indivijuls. (Brendan Beary)

Week 1181 (2016):

Sophrosyne (suh-FROSS-uh-nee): prudence, self-control:

If a don makes an offer you might just refuse,

Here's advice from a guy with a leg he can't use:

A goombah's unlikely to practice sophrosyne

Whacking a Louisville slugger across a knee. (Chris Doyle)

Solenoglyphous (Sol-e-NOG-li-fus), having fangs that fold into the


“Your solenoglyphous fangs are spectaculah!

They are awesome (to use the vernaculah)

'Cause they fold up inside

Till you open up wide —

I asp-pire to be like you!” Signed: Dracula

(Beverley Sharp)

Week 1283 (2018):

Lochetic (lo-KET-ic), describing an animal that lies in wait for prey:/

A small spider, lochetic, it lies

In its web all day, seeking a prize,

Which is fine, for it feels,

When it comes to good meals,

Time’s fun when you’re out having flies. (Frank Osen)

Catachresis, incorrect use of a word:

My catachrestic family! Folks correct us,

Inferring that our usage is a mess,

But their discrete reprisals won’t effect us

'Cause all and all, we frankly could care less.

Our language skill is fulsome, and we flout it,

Not phased by all the references they site.

Except it, 'cause there’s no two bones about it:

For all intensive purposes, we’re right. (Duncan Stevens)

Week 1335 (2019):

Apophysitis (uh-PAH-fuh-SIGH-tis), painful bone spurs:

Once upon a time of drafting, Donald pondered, sly and crafting,

Over many dark, dishonest ways to dodge the call to war —

Fearing far-off foes who'd fight us, settled on apophysitis,

Blaming it without the slightest hint of shame forevermore.

“I'd be honored,” Donald uttered, “to have served within the Corps.

But, alas, my feet were sore.” (Jesse Frankovich)

[Yeah, that one won.]

Murrelet, a seabird

Among endangered species is the avian marbled murrelet,

It would be sad to see this species going down the turrelet. (Dave Zarrow)

AABBA’s Greatest Hits*: The song-limericks of Week 1441
*Non-inking entry by Jeff Contompasis; we’ve had similar ABBA/AABBA limerick jokes by Mark Raffman and Bruce Alter

Our first-ever contest to turn a well-known song lyric into a limerick (or to comment on the song in limerick form) turned out to be one of our most enjoyable of the zillions of limerick contests in our history. Thanks again to Invite reader John Vigour for the suggestion; if he ever comes up from Charlottesville, I owe him a milkshake.

I was slightly concerned that many of the limericks would provide ingeniously correct five-line summations of the songs, but would get the reaction of “huh, I see” rather than “hah! funny!” But of course the Loser Community figured out how to get the jokes and digs in for this week’s results, many of them using the option to “reflect” on the song rather than to sum it up. Even the second cut of my shortlist contained lots more zingers than the 35 limericks I ran (19 in print).

There’s a new(ish) name atop the list this week: Almost-newbie Emma Daley wins her first Clowning Achievement trophy — and just her sixth blot of ink — with her take on “The Star-Spangled Banner,” rhyming “British” and “skittish” to end it: “Now of despots we’re finally rid (ish).” Emma edged out runner-up Sarah Walsh, who observed that one of the universal beliefs that make this world a small one after all is a loathing of “It’s a Small World.” Filling out the Losers’ Circle are Usual Suspects Jonathan Jensen, sending outgrown Puff the Magic Dragon to Goodwill, and Mark Raffman, imploring Jesus, “Please, my Savior and Lord/ Take the wheel of my Ford/ (Which I trust that you know how to drive).”

Some Losers ignored this line in the instructions: “No matter how obvious it is to you, please supply the title of the song you’re limericking.” I was sure about most of the unattributed limericks (some of which got ink because I am nice), was pretty sure about some, and tossed the rest.

As usual with Invite music-themed contests, the references leaned heavily into the 20th century, specifically the 1960s and ’70s, along with old-timey classics, camp songs, etc. We don’t have anything currently in the Top 40 in this week’s lim-list, but at least there are entries based on the less fogy “Uptown Funk” (2014), “Jesus Take the Wheel” and the somewhat contrasting “Don’t Cha” (2005) and, tucked way down near the bottom, Seth Brown’s “damp cat” take on “WAP” (2020). Oh, and “Baby Shark” (2016 but it feels like a thousand years already).

Some of the entries included fun facts about the songs. I knew that the FBI investigated whether the garbly lyrics of the Kingsmen’s “Louie, Louie” were hiding something dirrrteee, but it was new to me that the BBC at first refused to play the Who’s “My Generation” out of sensitivity to stutterers (Chris Doyle’s non-inking entry ended “It offended, they said, /Folks who stutter, which led /To them giving the Who p-p-pause.” And Bob Turvey from across the pond accompanied his precis of the 1871 hymn “Onward, Christian Soldiers” with a note pointing out that William S. Baring-Gould, grandson of the hymn’s composer, wrote the U.K. best-selling 1967 collection “The Lure of the Limerick: An Uninhibited History.” The limerick was a bit straightforward, but I’d love to see that book.

I hope you keep that hickory-dickory-dock rhythm nearby; sometime next month we’ll have our 18th Limerixicon, our annual contest in conjunction with to write limericks that feature words from a particular sliver of the dictionary (somewhere in the H’s, it should be).

What Doug Dug: “They were all good, really,” Ace Copy Editor Doug Norwood told me after reading this week’s results. Well, yeah, we know that. But Doug did offer that his favorite song-limerick was Robert Schechter’s of “Over the Rainbow,” explaining exactly why oh why happy little bluebirds fly but Dorothy can’t. Doug also singled out Melissa Balmain’s limerick about the A-B-C song; Chris Doyle reminding us that “Louie, Louie” rhymes with “FBI,” which suspected the Kingsmen’s unintelligible lyrics contained dangerous obscenity); and George Thompson’s five-line “Stairway to Heaven.”