What Was The Winning Word In The National Spelling Bee 7 Quintessential National-Spelling-Bee-Winning Words

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7 Quintessential National-Spelling-Bee-Winning Words

Since 1925 American grade-school students (and a few from outside the U.S.) have
participated in a national spelling bee held annually in Washington, D.C. Students proceed
through a series of rounds by spelling words correctly, and the winner of the bee is the
contestant who pulls off one final word after all other spellers have been eliminated. Here
are a few of the words that have resulted in victory. (For the complete list of winning
words and a brief history of the contest, see the article National Spelling Bee.)(1928):
“an ability, talent, or special skill needed to do something”To today’s
spelling-bee contestants, the words that dominated the early years of the National
Spelling Bee must seem ridiculously easy. Indeed, all it took for Betty Robinson to win
the bee in 1928 was a knack for spelling knack. Louis Edward Sissman, the top
speller of 1946, later achieved modest fame as a poet, but his linguistic prowess was
hardly demonstrated by his winning word: initials. As the national bee grew in
popularity, the competition became tougher and the words more challenging. But even as
recently as 1984, the short (though admittedly not everyday) word luge won the bee for Daniel Greenblatt.(1962):
“not
squamulose”The
tendency for winning words to be the sort of rarely encountered terms that even educated
adults find difficult to spell emerged around the middle of the 20th century. In 1962
the bee came down to Nettie Crawford and Michael Day, who, according to the Associated
Press’s account, “engaged in more than an hour of head-and-head wrestling with words
that grew stranger by the round.” The contest was declared a draw when neither could
correctly spell esquamulose—which is nonetheless considered the year’s “winning
word.” (Esquamulose is the opposite of squamulose, which means “being or
having a thallus made up of small leafy lobes.” Of course.) Similarly tricky words that
spelling champs have managed to get right include
staphylococci (1987), succedaneum (2001), and
autochthonous (2004).(1936,
1965): “an acute or chronic noncontagious inflammatory condition of the skin that is
characterized by redness, itching, and oozing vesicular lesions which become scaly,
crusted, or lichenified and that is often associated with exposure to chemical or other
irritants”Words
used in the medical profession are notorious for stumping spellers, so it’s no surprise
that they appear frequently in the list of winning words. In fact, eczema maintains the distinction of being the only word to
have resulted in victory on two separate occasions: in 1936 for Jean Trowbridge and in
1965 for Michael Kerpan, Jr. Among the other medical terms on the list are, oddly, two
other skin ailments— psoriasis (1982) and
xanthosis (1995)—as well as
odontalgia (1986), which most people know better as toothache.(1967):
“any of a breed of very small, short- or long-haired dogs typically weighing between two
and six pounds and having a round head with short, slightly pointed muzzle and large,
erect ears”Contrary to what some may believe, capitalized words are not
prohibited from the National Spelling Bee. These days, all entries in Webster’s Third
New International Dictionary are fair game, including words derived from proper
names. As it happens, a handful of words that the dictionary capitalizes have brought
glory to those who spelled them correctly. Following
Chihuahua (a dog named for a Mexican
state)
winning words have included Purim
(1983), Ursprache (2006), and Laodicean (2009). Fortunately
for contestants—who have enough else to remember!—they are not required to indicate a
word’s capitalization during their turn at the microphone.(1996):
“the act or practice of burying alive”One reason many people tune into the
televised final rounds of the National Spelling Bee is to learn new and unusual words.
Of the many uncommon words featured in the bee, some of the most fascinating are the
ones that prompt the exclamation, “I didn’t know there was a word for that!” For
example, when a Christian church is shaped like a cross, the part that represents the
shorter of the two cross-forming lines is called the
transept (1954). And there’s no need to resort to the hyphenated
compound “wavy-haired” when cymotrichous (2011) can be used in its place. One of
the best examples from the list of winning words is vivisepulture, a term that’s
certainly far less familiar than the morbid concept it describes.(1971):
“a lightweight twilled fabric of wool or worsted used chiefly for linings of coats and
uniforms”Of course, one need not understand the meaning of a word to
appreciate it. Some words are simply pleasing to the ear or fun to pronounce, regardless
of their semantic content. One example of such a word may be euphonious, which
actually means “pleasing to the ear.” (It also makes frequent appearances in spelling
bees.) And while aesthetic judgments are inevitably subjective, I bet at least one
National Spelling Bee winner—perhaps meerschaum
(1950), pococurante (2003), or the dreamy-sounding
shalloon—strikes a chord with you, even if you have no idea what it
means.(1999):
“pathologically excessive and often incoherent talkativeness”On multiple
occasions, the National Spelling Bee has ended, appropriately, with a word that has to
do with words or language. In 1958 Jolitta Schlehuber spelled syllepsis, a
literary device exemplified by the shifting sense of the word “lost” in the sentence
“I’ve lost my hair and my mind.” In 1997 Rebecca Sealfon won by excitedly shouting each
letter in the word euonym, which means “a name well suited to the person, place,
or thing named.” And after spelling one word after another to reach the final round,
Nupur Lala may have been amused to succeed with “logorrhea,” derived from the Greek
logos (word) + rhoia (flow).

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