The 84th annual Scripps National Spelling Bee is under way, and before a winner is crowned on national television tomorrow night, thousands of really obscure words will be tackled by 275 kids ages 8 to 15. Twelve-year-old Kevin Lazenby of Opelika, Ala., kicked off round two today, notes the AP, correctly spelling "dolorifuge." If that seems like a tough one, brace yourself: NPR talks to linguist Ben Zimmer, who explains which words are really the tough ones.
- Foreign words that are in Merriam-Webster's unabridged English dictionary but adhere to non-English spelling rules, like the Greek hypozeuxis and the German stromuhr (last year's winning word).
- Words that sound like they should follow a typical spelling pattern, but don't: hidrosis sounds like it should be spelled "hydrosis"—but, of course, it isn't.
- "The dreaded schwa": These neutral vowels can be extremely tricky. Caprifig, for instance, is often misspelled as caprofig.
- Words that don't follow the spelling suggested by a like word: Though it's "religious," it's sacrilegious, not sacreligious.