The toughest job in broadcasting has to be the official pronouncer for the Scripps National Spelling Bee, which is carried live on ESPN.
Dr. Jacques Bailly has held the position since 2003.
As I watched the finals last week, Bailly rattled off the pronunciations for words I had never even heard before – which each of the contestants then correctly spelled!
So how does one train to be an official pronouncer?
You start by being smart and by being a good speller. Bailly actually won the national spelling bee as an eighth-grader. He later became an Ivy-Leaguer, receiving his bachelor's degree from Brown University and his PhD from Cornell University. Throw in a Fulbright scholarship along the way. Now, he’s a full-time associate professor of classics at the University of Vermont.
Bailly’s delivery and tone isn’t what you expect to hear on ESPN. It wouldn’t be what you would expect to hear in a new business pitch, a keynote speech or from a game show host, either. In fact, if you can imagine what a college professor talking about Greek and Roman philosophy would sound like (sophisticated, proper, monotonish) – it’s Jacques Bailly!
I’m just glad I have spellcheck.