20 Winning Words From Past National Spelling Bees
On Thursday, June 1, 2017, the world's best young spellers will assemble together under one roof to determine which one (or two) will be crowned champion of the 90th annual Scripps National Spelling Bee. While we breathlessly await that moment, let's take a look back at some of the most interesting winning words from years past.
1. GLADIOLUS // 1925
The word (a type of flower) is notable not due to its complexity, but because it was the first-ever winning word.
2. ALBUMEN // 1928
The white part of an egg.
3. PROMISCUOUS // 1937
We just like the idea of an eight-year-old asking the judge to use "promiscuous" in a sentence.
4. CRUSTACEOLOGY // 1955
The study of crustaceans, of course. Doesn’t it just roll off the tongue?
5. SYLLEPSIS // 1958
This is a complicated definition: “A figure of speech in which one word simultaneously modifies two or more other words such that the modification must be understood differently with respect to each modified word.” Say what? How about an example from Dorothy Parker: “It’s a small apartment. I’ve barely enough room to lay my hat and a few friends.” There’s also the Rolling Stones’ “Honky Tonk Woman”: “She blew my nose and then she blew my mind.”
6. SMARAGDINE // 1961
Of or pertaining to emeralds, or having the color of emeralds. “What beautiful smaragdine eyes you have.”
7. ESQUAMULOSE // 1962
Not covered in scales or scale-like objects; smooth-skinned. Can we bring this one back? “Hey, Jessie. You’re looking especially esquamulose today.”
8. MACULATURE // 1979
Paper waste and printed materials not intended for reading, a.k.a. junk mail. You might consider those five L.L. Bean catalogs you never signed up for maculature.
9. ELUCUBRATE // 1980
To produce by long and intensive effort, especially in reference to literary work.
10. ODONTALGIA // 1986
The next time you have a sore tooth, impress your dentist by telling him you’re suffering from odontalgia. It’s just a fancy word for toothache.
11. ANTEDILUVIAN // 1994
Ancient, antiquated or supremely dated. Have a friend who’s hitting a milestone birthday soon? Up the ante by referring to them as “antediluvian” instead of the totally overdone “over the hill.”
12. VIVISEPULTURE // 1996
The act of burying someone alive. Famous people terrified of being buried alive—also known as taphephobia, another great spelling word—included Hans Christian Andersen, George Washington, and Frederic Chopin.
13. EUONYM // 1997
A name well suited to a person, place or thing.
14. CHIAROSCURIST // 1998
Chiaroscuro is a style of monochromatic shading used in art.
15. SUCCEDANEUM // 2001
A substitute or replacement for something else, especially in reference to medicine.
16. PROSPICIENCE // 2002
17. POCOCURANTE // 2003
Apathetic or indifferent. Even though you’re not studying for the SATs anymore, maybe you should be a little less pococurante about expanding your vocabulary.
18. URSPRACHE // 2006
A hypothetically reconstructed parent language; Proto-Germanic would be one.
19. GUETAPENS // 2012
This word, which is defined as an ambush or trap, fortunately didn't ensnare 14-year-old Snigdha Nandipati, who went on to become that year's champion.
20. KNAIDEL // 2013
A small controversy followed the 2013 Spelling Bee, which 13-year-old Arvind V. Mahankali won by spelling knaidel, which is a type of dumpling that's often eaten during Passover, exactly as we just spelled it. But Yiddish experts said the Bee was wrong; traditionally, the word is spelled as kneydl.