The Toughest Words at Scripps Spelling Bee

Linguist explains which ones are the trickiest
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 1, 2011 8:58 AM CDT
Elizabeth Platz, 13, of Shelbina, Mo., successfully spells her word in the last round of the semifinals at the 2010 Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, on Friday, June 4, 2010.   (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
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(Newser) – 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.

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