I finally finished watching the 2011 Scripps National Spelling Bee, which had been sitting half-viewed on my DVR for months. No surprise: the final words were ridiculously difficult.

As NPR explains:

The Bee competitors often worry about “the dreaded schwa.” When there’s an unstressed vowel in a word that they haven’t studied, they might not know whether it’s spelled with an a, e, i, o, or u.

Last year’s finalists were stumped by words like fustanella (a skirt worn by men in some Balkan countries, misspelled as “fustinella”), caprifig (a wild variety of fig, misspelled as “caprofig”) and meperidine (a synthetic narcotic drug, misspelled as “meperedine”).

But it wasn’t always so difficult. Looking at the Wikipedia article on past champions, one finds the winning words from past decades are so easy that even common screenwriters could probably win.


1932 | knack
1933 | torsion
1934 | deteriorating
1935 | intelligible
1936 | interning
1937 | promiscuous
1938 | sanitarium
1939 | canonical
1940 | therapy
1941 | initials
1942 | sacrilegious
1946 | semaphore
1947 | chlorophyll
1948 | psychiatry

2001 | succedaneum 2002 | prospicience 2003 | pococurante 2004 | autochthonous 2005 | appoggiatura 2006 | Ursprache 2007 | serrefine 2008 | guerdon 2009 | Laodicean 2010 | stromuhr 2011 | cymotrichous

Really, 1941: You let Louis Edward Sissman win with “initials?” I know there was a war and everything, but c’mon. How was he going to misspell that? Inishuls? Uhniciulz? intls?

Regardless, belated congrats to Sukanya Roy. You’ll never need to use “cymotrichous” again, but all those hours spent studying Greek and Latin roots will genuinely improve your vocabulary.

Update: Nima points out that Louis Edward Sissman ended up becoming a notable poet — L.E. Sissman. He used initials!