On May 31, 2018, Karthnik Nemmani, a 14-year-old from McKinney, Texas, won the 91th Scripps National Spelling Bee against a worthy opponent, Naysa Modi, a 12-year-old from Frisco, Texas. Modi stumbled on the spelling of the German word bewusstseinslage (defined by Merriam-Webster as “a state of consciousness or a feeling devoid of sensory components.”) In order to win, Nemmani had to correctly spell the last two words: haecceitas (defined as “the status of being an individual or a particular nature”) and the winning word, “koinonia,” (pronounced “key nuh NEE uh” and defined as “the Christian fellowship or body of believers”). For his spelling brilliance, Memmani won more than $40,000 in cash, a $2,500 savings bond, a trophy, an encyclopedia set, and, of course, bragging rights to being the best speller in America — not to mention the ability to ignore annoying spellcheckers on his favorite apps. While most contestants spell words in their heads, one speller, Erin Howard, from Huntsville Alabama, resorted to a technique not seen at previous spelling bees: air typing (i.e. typing out a word with her fingers on an imaginary keyboard). Kids these days…
A review of the words used in the 2018 Scripps National Spelling Bee shows that the judges don’t mess around when it comes to finding truly difficult and obscure words. In fact, most of them fall into the category of “I didn’t even know that there was a word for that!” A review of the winning words form the inaugural Spelling Bee in 1925 to now shows a steady evolution from simple words, like “albumen” or “fracas,” to amazingly difficult words like “feuilleton” and “scherenschnitte.” So why have the words become so difficult? Since ESPN started broadcasting the Spelling Bee 25 years ago, the competition has attracted dramatically more children, and more significantly, children who possess truly remarkable spelling skills. This year the event featured a record-breaking 516 contestants (compared to 291 in 2017), ranging in age from 8 to 15 years old. As you can see from the list below, most of these words are ridiculously arcane — and some are so archaic, they can only be found in unabridged or specialized dictionaries. In order to spell a word correctly, contestants can ask clues about the word, such as what part of speech it is, language of origin, and alternate pronunciation.
Here is a list of some of the more difficult words of the 2018 Scripps National Spelling Bee, including their definitions:
ascyphous: having no cup-shaped parts
cabalassou: a giant armadillo
carmagnole: a lively song from the first French Revolution
cento: a literary work made up of parts from other works
Clausewitz: Prussian general and military strategist
dereistic: thinking without the rules of logic
diploe: bony tissue between the external and internal layers of skull
draegerman: a miner trained in underground emergency and rescue work
escamotage: slight of hand, trickery, or juggling
fourrier: a harbinger or forerunner
funest: portending evil or death
glossodynia: a pain in the tongue
heautophany: manifestation of self
ispaghul: dietary fibre derived from the seed husks of Plantago orata and used as thickener in food industry
millefleurs: a pattern of plants and small flowers
orrisroot: the fragrant rootstock of a specific European iris
paillasson: coarsely woven straw used for hats
paucispiral: a spiral with a few turns
perduellion: subversion or treason
philonium: an ancient remedy
plumetis: a fine dress fabric of cotton, wool, or rayon that is woven with raised dots or figures on a plain background producing an embroidered effect
Praxitelean: work by or similar to that of Ancient Greek sculptor Praxiteles
serac: a pinnacle, narrow ridge, or block of ice among the crevasses of a glacier
triturate: to grind or crush
tychopotamic: thriving in still waters (eg, ponds)
uraeus: figure of the sacred serpent, an emblem of sovereignty, as depicted on the headdress of ancient Egyptian deities and rulers.
vinhatico: a type of leguminous timber tree from South America
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Read related posts: Why is it Called a Spelling Bee?
Spelling Bee Winning Words
What are the Words and Definitions of 2017 Spelling Bee?
Rare Anatomy Words
Words Oddities: Fun with Vowels
What Rhymes with Orange
For further reading: http://www.merriam-webster.com