13 Words That Knocked Out Spelling Bee Finalists

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Getty Images

The 87th Annual Scripps National Spelling Bee ended in a draw! Sriram Hathwar (right) and Ansun Sujoe are the first co-champions since 1962. If this year's Bee inspires you to brush up on your spelling, here are some words that have knocked out recent runners-up.

1. Schwarmerei, 2012 & 2004.

Note to future contestants: Learn the correct spelling of this German origin noun, which means excessive sentimentality, as it has knocked out two contestants in the final round in the past decade. One was 13-year-old Akshay Buddiga in 2004, who had famously fainted on stage only to get back up and correctly spell “alopecoid” earlier in the competition.

2. Sorites, 2011.

Concluding that there was a “p” at the beginning of this noun, which is a type of argument that has several successive premises leading to one conclusion, was the undoing of Canadian Laura Newcombe.

3. Terribilita, 2010.

An expression of intense anger or emotion, particularly in the conception or execution of a work of art. (Or the losing of a spelling competition? Three students tied for second place in 2010.)

4. Rhytidome, 2010.

The outermost layer of the bark of a tree.

5. Ochidore, 2010.

A little-used word for a shore crab. “Crustacean” would have been so much easier!

6. Menhir, 2009.

An upright stone or monolith, typically of prehistoric origin, knocked one contestant down in 2009.

7. Maecenas, 2009.

A patron of the arts, and nemesis to 12-year-old Tim Ruiter, who tied for second place in 2009.

8. Prosopopoeia, 2008.

A figure of speech in which an imaginary or absent person is speaking or acting caused 12-year-old first-timer Sidharth Chand to disappear in 2008.

9. Coryza, 2007.

A contagious disease affecting the upper respiratory tract. Damn those colds!

10. Weltschmerz, 2006.

A state of depression or apathy as a result of accepting the actual state of the world as opposed to an idealized version. Yep, sounds about right.  

11. Roscian, 2005.

An adjective used to describe a skilled actor, a tribute to Roman actor Quintus Roscius Gallus, who died in 62 BC. Like a pre-Julian Philip Seymour Hoffman.

12. Trouvaille, 2004.

Californian Aliya Deri didn’t consider this word—meaning windfall—much of a lucky break when it landed her in second place in 2004.

13. Gnathonic, 2003.

The “g” is silent in this adjective (which means fawning or obsequious), which explains its unfortunate omission in eighth-grader Evelyn Blacklock’s spelling of it in the final round.

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Why Did Noon Used to Mean 3 p.m.?

3 p.m. is basically noon for people who wake up at 12 p.m.
3 p.m. is basically noon for people who wake up at 12 p.m.
Mckyartstudio/iStock via Getty Images

If you’re a late sleeper, you might find yourself thinking 12 p.m. seems way too early to be considered midday, and the word noon would much better describe, say, 3 p.m. It turns out that ancient Romans would have agreed with you, if only for etymological reasons.

As Reader’s Digest explains, the days in ancient Rome were split into four periods of three hours each. The first hour was at sunrise around 6 a.m.—called prime, for first—followed by 9 a.m. (terce, denoting the third hour), 12 p.m. (sext, for sixth), and 3 p.m. (none, for ninth).

According to Merriam-Webster, Middle and Old English borrowed the time-keeping tradition, along with the Latin word for ninth, which was changed to nōn and eventually noon. Though we’re not sure exactly when or why noon started referring to 12 p.m. instead of 3 p.m., it could have something to do with Christian prayer traditions. In the Bible, Jesus’s crucifixion is said to have taken place at the ninth hour, and that’s when worshippers partook in their second of three daily prayers; the others were in the morning and evening. It’s possible that hungry monks were behind noon’s gradual shift from 3 p.m. to 12 p.m.—since their daily fast didn’t end until after the midday prayer, they had a built-in motive for moving it earlier.

While we didn’t exactly stay true to the original Latin meaning of noon, there’s another important remnant of ancient Rome hiding in the way we tell time today. Romans referred to 12 p.m. as meridiem, for midday, and so do we. A.M. is an abbreviation for ante meridiem, or before midday, and P.M. means post meridiem, or after midday.

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