DAYTON, Ohio -- The man who pronounces the words for the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee says he might be able to spell his way through the first three rounds of the contest, if his nerves held up.
After that, Alex Cameron says he probably could continue for several rounds because he's a good speller. 'But I wouldn't bet on it. I'd definitely bet the other way,' he said Tuesday.
Cameron, an English professor at the University of Dayton, has presided over the spelling bee as its official word pronouncer each spring in Washington since 1980.
He follows Richard Baker, the chairman of the philosophy department at the university, who held the job for about 20 years.
'Somewhere along the line I helped him with proofreading lists,' says Cameron.
This year's contest, May 31-June 1 in Washington, will find 222 youngsters, up to eighth grade, testing their spelling skills. There is no minimum age.
Beginning in late November, Cameron receives batches of words that will be used in the contest. Altogether, he studies a list of 600 to 800 words.
To prepare for his job, he uses the bee's official dictionary, Webster's Third International, to research pronunciations, definitions, roots, homonyms and parts of speech, then writes sample sentences.
Cameron traditionally spends the month of May at his family home in Dearborn, Mich., practicing the pronunciation of such words as the 1986 contest's 'prolegomenon,' 'xystus' and 'recrementitious.'
Cameron said winners appear to share the trait of being highly literate.
He noted that words from the first several rounds are drawn from the Scripps Howard book 'Words of the Champions.' For the third round, words are drawn from a regional word list used to conduct local bees.
But by the fourth round, the contest uses words not found on any study list.
Cameron said the tension mounts as the ranks are reduced on the stage.
'They're on their own, and it's at this point that spellers who are really pretty well read and have a lot of outside information ... survive.'