US Spelling Bee champ anything but indifferent

I know I’ve said that Americans don’t spell as well as the British, but there’s no doubting that the institution of the National Spelling Bee is given much more attention, time, and effort in the USA.


Last week, 13-year-old Kavya Shivashankar from Kansas won the coveted spelling bee trophy by correctly spelling the word Laodicean.  The Round 16 word, meaning to be indifferent, especially in religion, put her ahead of the the two runners up, who misspelled menhir (an upright stone monument, carried around by Obelix in the Asterix comics) and Maecenas (a patron or supporter of the arts).

The months of training, which even included skipping her own birthday celebrations, paid off for Shivashankar, as she took home her prizes, worth over US$30,000.  She plans to be a neurosurgeon one day, but said that nothing would ever replace spelling.

It’s unlikely that most of us have ever heard of the majority of the words in the later rounds of the bee.  It’s even less likely that we’d have the opportunity to use them in real life.  Many of them have been adopted into English from other languages, making an already irregular spelling system even more difficult.  Here are a few for you to consider:

phoresy – a non-parasitic relationship where one organism carries another.

guayabera – a type of loose men’s shirt or lightweight jacket, popular in Latin America.

sophrosyne – moderation, discretion.

reredos – a decorative screen used on an altar.

Fourth-placed Kyle Mou tripped up on schizaffin, which I’ve had trouble even finding a definition for (a few different sources seem to think it means ‘characterised by a slender build with slight muscle definition’).  I think these kids deserve a lot of credit for their dedication, hard work, bravery (I don’t think I could go on national TV to spell words most people can’t even pronounce, let alone spell) and doing their bit to keep obscure vocabulary alive.

Full article from the BBC.