Buzzing about the Spelling Bee

 Buzzing about the Spelling Bee

Spelling Cover

Driving home today something triggered memories of the spelling bee.  I have a lot of respect for the people of this world who can spell.  The “art” of spelling is obviously going down the tubes with our many automated word processing programs(thanks Microsoft?).  I never won a spelling bee but I really appreciated the kids who could spell some of the more intensive words.

So I started researching the winning words from the National Spelling Bee.  Now run by Scripps as a non-profit organization that encourages children to educate children to be better in the art of spelling.  I also started to discover that many of the National Spelling Bee winners have gone on to some pretty good opportunities and careers.


Here are four winners from 1926.

In 1926 the winning word was “abrogate”.  It means roughly to “do away with a law or agreement”.

poker speller

Pratyush Buddiga, the 2002 winner, is a fixture on the professional poker circuit.  He put his brains to good use.  His winning world was “prospicience”, (the act of moving forward).

1973-winner-barrie-trinkle-went-to-mit-spent-more-than-a-decade-at-nasas-jet-propulsion-lab-worked-as-an-editor-at-amazon-and-now-is-a-freelance-editor1973 winner Barrie Trinkle went to MIT, spent more than a decade at NASA’s Jet Propulsion lab, worked as an editor at Amazon, and now is a freelance editor.  Her word was “vouchsafe”.

How do they pick the words?

“A good spelling bee word is one that isn’t transparent,” says Peter Sokolowski, Merriam-Webster’s Editor-at-Large, who is involved with the bee. That means double letters (braggadocio), single letters where you might expect double letters (sassafras), silent letters (mnemonic), and letter combinations that most of us never encounter. American Heritage dictionaries editor Steve Kleinedler points to mashups like the phth- at the beginning of phthongal, which means capable of varying in pitch.


Some other winning words include:

  • 1939……..canonical
  • 1946……..semaphore
  • 1961……..smaragdine
  • 1962…….esquamulose
  • 1982…….psoriasis
  • 1999…….logorrhea (which sounds painful)
  • 2001…….succedaneum