PopZette

T-E-N-S-E: It’s Spelling Bee Time

The national Scripps contest finals are underway, and kids are feeling the pressure

Would you be able to spell “scherenschnitte” if someone asked you to on the spot? Or what about “nunatak”? Does anyone even know what these words mean?

The first winning word was “gladiolus,” a type of flower.

The contestants of the Scripps National Spelling Bee do, and they can spell them both at the drop of a hat. They were the 2015 winning words.

The 2016 Scripps National Spelling Bee is held at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland. Competing for the title of 2016 Spelling Bee Champion? 285 spellers — 144 boys and 141 girls.

Preliminary rounds took place earlier this week. Round three happens today, and the finals are Thursday.

The leader in sports TV, ESPN, holds exclusive live coverage rights for all competition hours Wednesday and Thursday. It may not be a Giants-Jets football game, but it is sure to be quite the battle.

The National Spelling Bee has taken place every year since 1925 through the collaboration of nine newspapers. The first winning word was “gladiolus,” a type of flower. The Spelling Bee was not held during WWII from 1943 to 1945.

Although there are a few more boys in this year’s competition, more girls have won the Bee overall — beating their male competitors 48 to 45. One of these male competitors, the winner from 1980, Dr. Jacques Bailly, has been the official pronouncer of the Bee since 2003. As an eighth grader, he won with the word “elucubrate,” meaning to work out or express by studious effort.

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All of these words must be spelled exactly how they are in the spelling bee bible: Webster’s Third New International Dictionary. It has more than 472,000 words in it and is the only source that counts when it comes to spelling. In 2013, some people questioned the spelling of “knaidel,” another word for matzo ball. Yiddish speakers claimed that spelling was incorrect. However, it is spelled that way in Webster’s and therefore was deemed correct.

Misspelling a word isn’t the only thing that will get you disqualified. There are four other reasons a speller may be kicked out of the competition: Not approaching the microphone when it’s the speller’s turn at bat, engaging in “unsportsmanlike conduct,” altering the letters or sequence of letters in the process of retracing a spelling, or uttering “unintelligible or nonsense sounds” during the spelling process.

[lz_bulleted_list title=”More Bee Rules:” source=”SpellingBee.com”]The speller must not have passed beyond the eighth grade on or before Feb. 1, 2016.|The speller must attend a school that is officially enrolled with the Bee. (Tens of thousands are.)|The speller must not previously have been declared champion of the Bee.[/lz_bulleted_list]

If the contestants make it through all the rounds and spell every word right, they are generously rewarded.

Spelling Bee winners receive a $40,000 cash prize and the Scripps National Spelling Bee engraved trophy from Scripps. Merriam-Webster gives them a $2,500 U.S. savings bond and a complete reference library. Encyclopædia Britannica gives $400 of reference works, including a 1768 Encyclopædia Britannica Replica Set Deluxe Edition and a three-year membership to Britannica Online Premium.

These are some words that won spellers the grand prize:

  • 1926: Cerise — a bright or deep red color (spelled by the first female winner in the Bee’s second year).
  • 1953: Soubrette — a coquettish maid or frivolous young woman in comedies.
  • 1964: Sycophant — a person who praises powerful people in order to get their approval.
  • 1986: Odontalgia — a toothache.
  • 2004: Autochthonous — formed or originating in the place where found.

And last year’s:

  • Scherenschnitte — the art of cutting paper into decorative designs.
  • Nunatak — a hill or mountain completely surrounded by glacial ice.