Bee '16
May 25, 2016 12:15 PM   Subscribe

The 2016 Scripps National Spelling Bee is on. After ties in 2014 and 2015 because the judges ran out of words, the Bee is getting harder -- the opener was "abecedarius".

There have already been some memorable moments, including a 6-year-old competitor and 33 competitors eliminated in the first round (up from four last year). The preliminaries are being aired on ESPN3 (if you have a cable subscription), and the finals will air live Thursday on ESPN2 until 8 p.m., when ESPN proper will take it up.
posted by Etrigan (40 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 




The only thing keeping me from hating these kids, with their super-human ability to do something I can't do to save my life, is the knowledge that they will be curing the diseases and creating the sustainable energy systems and building the space-based medical facilities that will one day save my life.

In all seriousness, these kids are amazing. We've been watching this live for the past few years, ever since ESPN started showing it (or perhaps ever since we became aware that ESPN was showing it) and it's one of the most exciting things shown on TV.
posted by bondcliff at 12:52 PM on May 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


The only spelling bees I know about are for the English language. You know why? Because other languages have spelling that at least remotely reflects how the words are pronounced...
posted by Harald74 at 12:53 PM on May 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


I made it as far as District Finals back in 1991.

I misspelled the word: meteorologist

That damn 'eo that tripped me up.
posted by Fizz at 12:54 PM on May 25, 2016


I went shopping the other day, and when I came out, the Scripps National Spelling Bee was plastered all over the back of my car. They keep following me around and jumping on the back of the car whenever it stops. No one seems to know what to do.

Beware the Scripps National Spelling Bee is what I'm trying to say!

posted by Naberius at 12:54 PM on May 25, 2016 [2 favorites]


The sample test is divertive, if a little parlous
posted by theodolite at 12:56 PM on May 25, 2016 [4 favorites]


I don't care who you are; nobody deserves to have to spell "fuchsia."
posted by KChasm at 1:01 PM on May 25, 2016


Sheesh. Would it kill them to start off with a round of easier words so that contestants who have traveled from all over the country would have a reasonable opportunity to show off their spelling skills instead of being bounced out in the first two minutes.
posted by JackFlash at 1:03 PM on May 25, 2016


The only thing keeping me from hating these kids, with their super-human ability to do something I can't do to save my life, is the knowledge that they will be curing the diseases and creating the sustainable energy systems and building the space-based medical facilities that will one day save my life.

I dunno. I mean, they're probably bright kids, but spelling obscure words nobody uses (abecedarius? Really?) is a pretty useless skill. I think this is mostly a test of meaningless drilling and stage parenting, not anything that will lead to much useful.
posted by Mitrovarr at 1:10 PM on May 25, 2016 [5 favorites]


I dunno. I mean, they're probably bright kids, but spelling obscure words nobody uses (abecedarius? Really?) is a pretty useless skill.

Something tells me these kids who read the dictionary and win national spelling bees are probably kind of ambitious and maybe good at one or two other things. This isn't Honey Boo Boo we're talking about.
posted by bondcliff at 1:14 PM on May 25, 2016 [7 favorites]


Would it kill them to start off with a round of easier words so that contestants who have traveled from all over the country would have a reasonable opportunity to show off their spelling skills instead of being bounced out in the first two minutes.

By having an invitation to Scripps, these kids showed off their skills.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:15 PM on May 25, 2016 [3 favorites]


I was in the NSB in the early 2000s. I get to trot that fact out in polite company once a year, which happens to be right now.

"Abecedarius" is a trivially easy Bee word, by the way. Abecedarian, even.
posted by Oxydude at 1:21 PM on May 25, 2016 [13 favorites]


Why are Indian kids so good at spelling?

Because they have their own minor-league spelling bee circuit.


see and here I was thinking that it was because a lot of Indian immigrants have, due to the visa granting process (ie the H1-B), one of the highest educational attainment levels compared to other immigrants to the US and are thusly aware that extracurricular intellectual pursuits grants them the kind of cultural capital required to enter into elite institutions of knowledge. combine that with support networks that naturally materialize from being Othered in society (eg Chinatowns and other geographic ethnic enclaves) and strong kinship networks and you pretty have a recipe for a kind of personalized network of spelling competitions (and the stereotype of the 'model minority' that essentializes academic achievement with race because that's an easier heuristic than the actual, complicated reality but that's a different topic, entirely)
posted by runt at 1:22 PM on May 25, 2016 [6 favorites]


Wow, the winning word:

1928: albumen
1938: sanitarium
1948: psychiatry
1959: catamaran
1967: Chihuahua
1978: deification
1985: milieu
1999: logorrhea
2004: autochthonous
2006: Ursprache
2011: cymotrichous
2015: scherenschnitte & nunatak

Given the increasing difficulty and obscurity of winning words, I'm reasonably sure I could have killed in the 1892 spelling bee.

H-A-Y
posted by bologna on wry at 1:32 PM on May 25, 2016 [9 favorites]


Something tells me these kids who read the dictionary and win national spelling bees are probably kind of ambitious and maybe good at one or two other things.

That's probably true of the kid that wins the school spelling bee, but I bet the national winner has been carefully groomed from birth by the parent.
posted by Mitrovarr at 1:33 PM on May 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


see and here I was thinking that it was because a lot of Indian immigrants have, due to the visa granting process (ie the H1-B), one of the highest educational attainment levels compared to other immigrants to the US and are thusly aware that extracurricular intellectual pursuits grants them the kind of cultural capital required to enter into elite institutions of knowledge.

Spelling bee victories are pretty arbitrary and stunt-y as intellectual achievements go, though. And I say this as someone who went to nationals. I don't think I even put it on my high school application, since you do it in middle school.
posted by praemunire at 1:34 PM on May 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


Saif Siddiquee (PA) spelled the word 'recrudescence' correctly...

Most cromulent word of the tourney so far.
posted by rokusan at 1:46 PM on May 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


I made it to the state finals in middle school (I think I finished like 5th), but since I was unwilling to do any special study I probably had no real chance at ultimate victory. You can get pretty far (or at least I did) on the strength of reading a ton and solid grasp of phonics/etc, but ultimately you will face kids who have been drilling on words a ton and will not make the same mistakes you do.

I forget what word I missed ultimately. I do remember the final word that ended up deciding the state champion was "jacal" which I have never encountered outside the bee, although I will remember its meaning and spelling forever probably.
posted by thefoxgod at 1:47 PM on May 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


I remember participating in a spelling bee once in 5th grade. I obviously had no chance against the South Asian American kids in my school who were preparing for it, but it made me appreciate how beautifully underutilized many words in our language are, and how many of their sounds are borrowed from other languages. I think it also taught me how to really feel out a word, and that there are certain patterns based on word roots, as well as some hilarious mixing of Latin and Greek roots in words. It's something really satisfying to spell out a word based on understanding fucked up English language rules, and learning pronounciation rules with it.

To have the plastic brain of a 9-10 year old again...
posted by yueliang at 1:51 PM on May 25, 2016 [2 favorites]


I made it as far as the state finals in 6th grade, which was 1983. In those days you could get by on a large vocabulary and good instincts about etymology. The game as it's played now is completely different. To me it lacks interest in the same way that competitive Scrabble lacks interest - rewarding large amounts of rote memorization instead of a naturally acquired language.
posted by Daily Alice at 1:56 PM on May 25, 2016 [3 favorites]


You can get pretty far (or at least I did) on the strength of reading a ton and solid grasp of phonics/etc, but ultimately you will face kids who have been drilling on words a ton and will not make the same mistakes you do.

Yep, that's what took me down.
posted by praemunire at 2:01 PM on May 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


Something tells me these kids who read the dictionary and win national spelling bees are probably kind of ambitious and maybe good at one or two other things.

That's probably true of the kid that wins the school spelling bee, but I bet the national winner has been carefully groomed from birth by the parent.


I highly recommend the documentary Spellbound for a glimpse at some of these kids and their families. It’s a nailbiter of a movie, and an amazing set of family portraits. I used to think* that if I could pick one movie to show to aliens to explain how awesome and weird humans can be, that’d be it.

* It’s not that I now think there’s a better movie for this than Spellbound, I just no longer fantasize that aliens will ask me for a Netflix recommendation before dicing me up like Scherenschnitte and rendering me down into a blob of autochthonous nutri-goop.
posted by miles per flower at 2:06 PM on May 25, 2016 [8 favorites]


I went out on "amenable" the one time I got into a serious bee.

Amenable, for fuck's sake.
posted by chavenet at 2:08 PM on May 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


I love Spellbound too; it's a lovely series of vignettes about ambition, anxiety and family, and it really is nail-bitingly exciting to watch.
posted by Aravis76 at 2:10 PM on May 25, 2016 [3 favorites]


the opener was "abecedarius"

Ha! I would have got that one because I grew up in Toronto listening to CFNY in the 80s.

Abecedarians - Smiling Monarchs (1985) was as pure an obscure 80s single as you could struggle to find before the internet made everything easy.
posted by srboisvert at 2:31 PM on May 25, 2016


I was in the NSB in the early 2000s. I get to trot that fact out in polite company once a year, which happens to be right now.

Late 90s for me. I drilled daily through the qualifying levels, but couldn't memorize the entirety of the M-W Unabridged. Ultimately the difficulty of the words you're given at the NSB is, well, aleatory— I find 2011's winning word cymotrichous much harder and less useful than 2004's autochthonous. And callipygian is still a common term of endearment in our house.
posted by a halcyon day at 4:09 PM on May 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


the Bee is getting harder -- the opener was "abecedarius".

Next years opener.
posted by The Bellman at 5:02 PM on May 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


Mid-'80s National Bee-er here (Nevada isn't that difficult to qualify out of; I damn near did it three times). I'll always remember who won it the year I made Nationals, if only because he was picked at random to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown, and they kept calling his name, but he wasn't there, because he was in his hotel room drilling words.
posted by Etrigan at 5:34 PM on May 25, 2016 [3 favorites]


but spelling obscure words nobody uses (abecedarius? Really?) is

I use abecedarian and abecedaria a lot! It's true, there aren't a lot of poets churning out an abecedarius or two these days, but it's awfully nice having the term for it when someone does.

I love the Bee. Our local champion has aged out this year (and he got screwed by the arbitrary cut-off last year), but the kids are almost always quirky and smart and interesting and delightful. The ESPN coverage ranges from terrible to "not as bad as last year", but the kids are great.
posted by julen at 7:32 PM on May 25, 2016


Ok but did anyone else have geography bees in middle school? I was good at the spelling ones, sure, but the geography was way more fun.
posted by karayel at 8:19 PM on May 25, 2016


One of those memories that will live forever in excruciating detail in my mind:

I went to a K-8 parochial school, Our Lady of Perpetual Guilt. I was really good at spelling. Really good. Every year the few finalists from each grade 4 - 8 would move on to the school spelling bee to compete against each other. This school bee took place in front of, well, the whole school.

I purposely lost every grade's bee 4th through 7th grade because, c'mon, seriously, you really think I am getting up in front of the entire school where there was even the slightest potential I could do something to embarrass myself TO LITERAL DEATH IN FRONT OF EVERYONE IN THE UNIVERSE?! Shaaaa riiiight!

This plan worked fine until the 8th grade. I remember vividly the class bee that year when I intentionally misspelled raspberry by leaving out the P. As I was secretly congratulating clever little ol' me in my head as I went to take my seat, I glanced at my teacher's face and stopped dead in my tracks. That knowing look of utterly palpable, unmistakable disappointment and shame-on-you-ness will seriously haunt me until my last breath here on this earth.

I still feel my cheeks flush with shame as I recall the memory. Yeeeeesh!
posted by bologna on wry at 8:43 PM on May 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


My most embarrassing spelling bee loss was "stage" which I spelled "stee-a-g-e." At least the next time I failed on bellwether. Which I will never ever forget how to spell.
posted by bendy at 9:17 PM on May 25, 2016


Spelling bee victories are pretty arbitrary and stunt-y as intellectual achievements go, though. And I say this as someone who went to nationals. I don't think I even put it on my high school application, since you do it in middle school.

we never had spelling bees at my school but my parents were great about getting on me about memorizing lists so that I would become the 'ace' of my Spell Bowl team. asking them about it now they say that they figured that 1) knowing a ton of words would help me become a more lucid writer so that when college apps came around, I'd be set, 2) it'd toss me into this network of fellow academic nerds from whom I could learn a thing or two about obedience and 3) it'd pull up my English test scores because that was where I was sort of weak on (not speaking English or consuming much English media probably contributing part of this at home). also something about rote memory being important and if I wasn't going to do Chinese Sunday school then I might as well learn English super good and etc. so I think the experience, at least mine, is different and a lot of that had to do with the fact that I was a 1.5 gen immigrant trying to make it in a predominantly white world and also because that's how my college-educated parents were raised to be exceptional amongst their peers. it just so happens that a lot of those values translate better than language does. people give you less shit if you're good at math than if you have passable speaking skills but carry an accent

also, I def put Spell Bowl on my application to a nice private school that I never ended up going to but I'm pretty sure I was accepted because of a long string of Spell Bowl like activities that built up my mental stamina and helped me to develop unnecessarily intense studying habits that haunt me to this day and drive me to read nerdass sites like this one for pleasure
posted by runt at 10:34 PM on May 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


> The only thing keeping me from hating these kids, with their super-human ability to do something I can't do to save my life, is the knowledge that they will be curing the diseases and creating the sustainable energy systems and building the space-based medical facilities that will one day save my life.

As far as I'm aware, we don't have spelling bees in this country but when I was at primary school, I was a bit of a spelling savant. They'd split the class up into groups with a different list of spellings to learn each week and I'd have my own special 'group' to myself at the end - while they were doing 'house' or 'difficult' I'd be doing 'incongruous' or 'recyclable'. I'm pretty sure that if spelling bees had been a thing where I grew up, I'd have been entered.

I never learned to read. Literally, at no point in my life did I ever actually sit down and consciously learn to read. As my parents tell it, I was just about to turn two, and I was sitting around the house doing whatever nearly-two-year-olds do, and suddenly I blurted out 'man killed!' My dad was baffled, until he took a look at the front page of the Manchester Evening News he was reading at the time and saw the headline - 'man killed in crash'. I don't know how I learned to read, but I've always had a really good grasp of language (at the expense of numbers, at which I am totally hopeless).

Sorry to disappoint, but I work a pen-pusher job in the public sector. I enjoy it and it's a good job but I'm not saving lives or building spaceships or changing the world. Knowing a shitload of words by itself doesn't make you capable of getting a Ph.D or excelling in industry or even being particularly clever - it just means you know a shitload of words. I think the people who do end up working at Google or as professors etc tend to have something else - a competitive spirit required to survive in academia and business. The rest of us are just... quietly getting on with life as best we can and there's nothing wrong with that.
posted by winterhill at 12:46 AM on May 26, 2016


One of my biggest regrets of childhood is never knowing. maybe, just maybe, I could've made it! I was born in America to foreign students, and turned out to have a freakish grasp on spelling. For a while, it looked like I had a decent shot... and then my dad's visa came to an end, so the family packed up and left America. Spelling bees were an unheard-of concept at the country we moved to. no chance whatsoever. I returned to America for college, but of course by then, my chance had passed a longggg time ago.
posted by Xere at 4:39 AM on May 26, 2016


My Facebook had a little meme going around a couple of weeks ago that (I think?) one of my friends started: Just current selfies with a person holding up the word that put them out at whatever level bee. It was beautiful. Today my friend Jill's at the National Bee for her comedy-writing gig, and she is flipping out with love and admiration.
posted by lauranesson at 11:31 AM on May 26, 2016 [2 favorites]


1996 Bee-er here. Won my school and county handily a few years running and in seventh grade won the regional bee (and sponsorship to the National bee) with 'opine.'

Mom expected me to study for the National competition (having previously found success based on natural ability and my voracious reading habit), but as she was a terrible speller, didn't really give me any direction other than forcing me to sit down with the list of words provided by the bee and a collegiate dictionary for hours on the weekends.

As such, it wasn't really surprising when I went out on my first word, though I completely misheard the pronouncer (I held that grudge against Alex Cameron and revisited it every year I saw him on TV) and bungled it anyway. The word was 'theodolite,' but I heard an 'f' sound, had no idea what the word was, took a stab at it with f-e-o-t-a-l-y-t-e and then heard the ding that marked the end of my run.

It was still a pretty fantastic trip and vacation for a single mom and kid, put up in a great hotel, food and sightseeing tours covered, and all that good stuff. Overall good memories.
posted by miratime at 12:32 PM on May 26, 2016


Last year I happened to see the national final on tv when I was on holidays, having never seen a spelling bee before and only having a vague concept of what one is. It was fascinating! So much so that we postponed whatever plans we had that day to watch through to the nailbiting end. I really liked how the contestants could figure out the spelling from the original language of the word etc, but it's still super impressive even if it is a bunch of memorisation of word lists.
posted by pianissimo at 6:27 AM on May 27, 2016


Goddammit, another tie.
posted by Etrigan at 7:47 AM on May 27, 2016


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