Heard on the Hill

‘Beckmesser’ earns Rep. Chris Pappas the spelling bee title

But competition at National Press Club also turned on spelling cocktails

New Hampshire Democratic Rep. Chris Pappas, left, holds the belt he won as the 2019 National Press Club Spelling Bee champion after defeating the press team’s champ, Eric Geller of Politico. (Herb Jackson/CQ Roll Call)

If you want to win the National Press Club’s Press vs. Politicians Spelling Bee, here’s a tip: Drinking might help.

Not necessarily drinking during the competition, although that certainly happens in the audience (and got official pronouncer Jacques Bailly  more laughs for the “dad jokes” in the use-the-word-in-a-sentence part of the questioning). There’s also a bar at the VIP reception for contestants and sponsors before the competition, and it’s up to them whether to partake before going on stage.

But for several years now, a lack of familiarity with drinks, or more precisely how to spell them, has led to many ejections, a trend that continued this year.

Owning a restaurant in New Hampshire may have helped Democratic Rep. Chris Pappas outlast his politician competitors Tuesday night, setting him up for a final face-off against the journalist champ, Politico’s Eric Geller.

“Having a bar means we know a lot of those ingredients,” Pappas said. 

Pappas had no problem with “mimosa” after Virginia Democratic Rep. Don Beyer stumbled on “margarita” (he spelled it like the pizza, with an “h”), and California Democratic Rep. Katie Hill  on “Sazerac” (she didn’t come close, even ending it with a “q”).

Maryland Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin complained that, as a teetotaler, he had been bumped in a previous year’s bee by “pinot grigio.” After much delay on Tuesday, he did manage to spell “mai tai” and survived until it was just him and Pappas left on the politicians team.

This year’s bout was different from previous years, which had press and politicians competing head-to-head from the start. Late votes kept the House members from showing up at the start, so the press team competed among themselves to choose a champion first, then waited for the politicians to do the same. 

In the final face-off, Pappas won after Geller put an “o” where there should have been an “i” in “noctidiurnal.” Pappas then correctly spelled “occision” (slaughter) and won it all on “Beckmesser” (a critic or teacher of music who relies excessively on rules).

Unlike Virginia Democratic Rep. Jennifer Wexton, who posted a video before the bee showing her being quizzed on words by staff as the theme from “Rocky” plays, Pappas said he did no training. But he was a fifth grade bee champ at the Webster School in Manchester, so maybe he did not need it.

On the media side, former CQ Roll Caller and current Hill reporter Alex Gangitano was tripped up by “kir.” CQ Roll Call’s John M. Donnelly (after acing “cosmopolitan”) was ousted by “coatimundi,” a variation of coati, a raccoon-like animal found in Central and South America. 

Politico’s Geller survived misspelling “glogg” — a hot spiced wine and liquor punch — and was in a back-and-forth competition with WAMU’s Daniella Cheslow at the end of the press round. After Cheslow misspelled “horologium,” a timepiece, Geller took the press title with “isocracy” and “Milanese.” 

The event, which raises money for the club’s Journalism Institute, had its start about a century ago, but fizzled and was revived in 2013. With Pappas’ win Tuesday, the press and pols are tied, 3-3. (The bee wasn’t held in 2014.)

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