Spelling Bee 2017: We Have A Winner!

Jun 6, 2017 By Deepa Gopal
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For the first time in four years, there is only one winner in the National Spelling Bee!

Ananya Vinay spelled her way into the winning place with the word "marocain". For the past three years, the Scripps National Spelling Bee has had co-champions. 

The road to the finals is a long one. For many, preparations start a year or more in advance as they pore over words and their origins. From 11 million children who participate at school level, the field narrows as regional and state level competitions are held across the country. The final set of 291 spellers meet in Washington DC for the finals.

The Spelling Bee

The National Spelling Bee has its humble origins in Louisville, Kentucky in 1925. It began as a way to stimulate interest in a normally dull subject, with competitions, cash prizes and a trip to the nation’s capital. The Scripps Howard News Service took over the Bee in 1941. Over the years, it has grown from a mere 9 contestants to 291 spellers.

There are many theories about how the contest got its name. You may have heard the word 'busy bee'? The word "bee" has long been used to describe a busy gathering of people who come together for a special purpose, such as quilting, spinning, logging, or raising a barn. "Spelling bee" in particular is an American term that came into use by the 1870s. Some scholars attribute the word to the Middle English root "bene," meaning a favor, which was sometimes used to describe neighbors helping out with a particular activity.

Did you know that the youngest finalist this year is only 6 years old? Edith Fuller, a homeschooled student from Oklahoma, charmed her way on the stage and into everyone's hearts. She was 5 when she won the state level competition.

How To Be A Super Speller?

It is not easy getting to Washington DC. Being a finalist takes a lot of stamina and the pressure of standing before a live audience. Also they have to get past multiple rounds, grueling elimination, and state level qualifiers. 

But lets not forget the preparation. Spellers seem to know their dictionaries from cover to cover. But it's impossible to have encountered every word in the dictionary in one's life time. Any good speller knows his word roots. A root word is a real word that can be created into other words by adding prefixes and suffixes. Take for example the word 'use'. It can be made into other new words like useless, usedmisuse, user, etc, where the derived words continue to maintain the underlying word meaning.

If you have watched any spelling bee competition, you may have heard the contestant asking for the 'language of origin'. The language from which a word has come from can give useful clues to a speller. For instance, words of Latin origin rarely have the letter 'z' in them. Also, letters 'k' and 'w' do not exist in Latin words unless they have passed through another language before becoming part of English.