Some people might come away from a conversation with Rebecca Lee thinking they have a katzenjammer. That’s a 25-cent word for a severe headache. It’s not that Lee talks too much or too fast. The 16-year-old Scottsdale girl has a voracious appetite for vocabulary and uses some big words in daily conversation.
By the way, katzenjammer is one of Lee’s favorite words.
A junior at Desert Mountain High School, she was the Arizona finalist in the first National Vocabulary Championship, held last week at the New York Public Library in New York City. She made it through the second round, pleased with the accomplishment but happier that she met kindred souls who also prioritize vocabulary.
“It was more of a game show,” Lee said of the competition. “They put up a word that didn’t agree in the sentence and wanted you to tell them what it derived from. We had only about three seconds to read and five to answer. It was definitely more of a game show than what I’ve done in the past.”
That’s just what it was. The show will be televised at 5 a.m. April 15 on the Game Show Network.
Lee, who has never entered a spelling bee, prefers word challenges. In 2004 as an eighth-grader at Desert Canyon Middle School, Lee won the state Reader’s Digest Word Power Challenge and went to Orlando, Fla. for the national competition. She liked that because a sentence would be shown with a key word and multiple choices for its definition. There was no time limit.
Despite its limitations, the vocabulary championship was a chance for Lee to grow. She said she’d welcome the opportunity to go back for another competition.
“I met a lot of people in New York who have similar ideas like mine,” Lee said. “I was able to talk and connect with them about our similar experiences. I think it and my vocabulary will help me with the SAT test.”
It’s unlikely many of the students Lee met in New York decided to read a dictionary — “Five pages a day; I’m into the Bs,” she said — as Lee has.
“I’ve always liked to read,” she said. “It wasn’t anything my parents wanted me to do. I just started and enjoyed it a lot. It became a habit. It think it’s more the etymology (origin and development of a word) that intrigues me. I like knowing how they became words, the different roots words come from.
“Even when I read books, I wonder about an author’s word choice. Words help me to become a more discerning writer and editor.”
Lee, who hasn’t picked a college beyond knowing she wants to go somewhere on West Coast, said she’ll likely pursue her dream of being a pediatrician. Yet, she won’t shelve her voracious appetite for words and ability to use them properly.
“I’d love to be a novelist,” Lee said. “I can articulate what I want to put on paper. I think being a novelist will be harder. There’s a lot of competition.”