May Charm: Spelling

Keychain of a beaded golden trophy with the words "I FOUGHT THE SCHWA" on it in black beads.

schwa (noun) ˈshwä 
1: an unstressed mid-central vowel (such as the usual sound of the first and last vowels of the English word America)
2: the symbol ə used for the schwa sound and less widely for a similarly articulated stressed vowel (as in cut)

Merriam-Webster Dictionary (

In 2016, my sibling and I accidentally found ourselves in a spelling bee. We thought we had signed up to watch the bee, but we had actually signed up to participate. Neither of us got very far, but it was also a lot more enjoyable once we were sitting in the audience instead. Peter Sokolowski, a lexicographer at Merriam-Webster and a judge at the Scripps National Spelling Bee, was a pronouncer and judge that night. At one point, someone got out because of a schwa and Peter Sokolowski explained what a schwa is and how every vowel could be used to make that sound, which makes it harder to know which vowel to use when spelling words. “I fought the schwa and the schwa won,” he concluded.

After the bee ended, my sibling and I went out to eat. “You should write a song called ‘I Fought the Schwa,'” I said. Over dinner, we came up with some lyrics and afterwards they took the lyrics and made it better.

For the last few years, I’ve made a charm around/during the National Spelling Bee. This year, I decided to make a golden trophy with the words “I fought the schwa” on it to celebrate the spellers.

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