Thanks to National Public Radio (USA) for keeping us apprised of who’s who in the world of words, spelling edition:
For the first time in 52 years, the Scripps National Spelling Bee crowned two winners last night, after the final two competitors exhausted the word list. The winners were Sriram Hathwar, an eighth-grader from Painted Post, N.Y., and Ansun Sujoe, a seventh-grader from Fort Worth, Texas.
“I like sharing the victory with someone else,” Ansun said. “It’s been quite shocking and quite interesting, too. It’s very rare.”
Here are the words that brought Thursday night’s competition to a close, from the Scripps Spelling Bee site (we’re including the definitions just in case you’ve forgotten them):
“Sriram’s championship word was ‘stichomythia,’ which means dialogue especially of altercation or dispute delivered in alternating lines (as in classical Greek drama).
“Ansun’s was ‘feuilleton,’ a part of a European newspaper or magazine devoted to material designed to entertain the general reader, or a feature section.”
“We both know the competition is against the dictionary, not against each other,” Sriram said. “I’m happy to share the trophy with him.”
It was the second consecutive year in the finals for Sriram, who said he staged a “furious comeback” after a heartbreaking loss in 2013.
The joint title was made possible after both competitors slipped up in the same round, with Ansun stumbling over “antigropelos” and Sriram getting “corpsbruder” wrong. If either had made those mistakes in a different round, the 2014 competition would have had only one winner. But now there are two, after the boys spelled their way to glory.
You could say there was a third winner this year, as well: Jacob Williamson, who won a devoted fan base online with the infectious excitement he let loose at every turn, smiling and cheering on a national stage that has hosted its share of awkwardly painful moments over the years…
The Scripps National Spelling Bee can seem charmingly inconsistent: sometimes, it’s as if the competition exists to teach studious tweens that life is ultimately unfair. This year, the contestants ranged in age from eight to fifteen (the youngest ever was Lori Anne Madison, in 2012, who was six). After six rounds of spelling, the thirty-one semifinalists left standing were semi-ceremoniously culled down to a “maximum of twelve” for the Championship Finals, based on their performance on a computer spelling test and multiple-choice vocabulary questions. The number twelve is only half arbitrary—it makes for a good two-to-three hour prime-time television event on ESPN. There was a controversy at the 2010 Bee, when ten spellers appeared in the finals, but, because of a technicality, only four had earned official status (and T.V. exposure) as championship finalists.
Out of the twelve championship finalists this year, it was one eleven-year-old’s first time competing in the Bee, and one fourteen-year-old’s fifth. To a casual viewer, the words—all drawn from Webster’s Third New International Dictionary and its addenda section—can be literally and figuratively all over the map, both in terms of difficulty and general recognizability. One could be forgiven for hearing “Arya Stark” instead of the word “aristarch” (meaning a severe critic), which the eighth grader Aparajita Rao, from Pennsylvania, spelled correctly. Thanks to the Norman invasion and a flourishing restaurant culture, modern English speakers are probably more familiar with a French word like “charcuterie” than the Hebrew-via-Greek word “gematria.” But that didn’t stop the thirteen-year-old Tajaun Gibbison, from Jamaica, and eleven-year-old Tejas Muthusamy, from Virginia, from getting them both right, respectively.
Some of the kids, when it was their turn to take the microphone, greeted the event’s official pronouncer, Dr. Jacques Bailly (“Hello again!”), and others employed a stand-up comedian’s stage patter. Before the twelve finalists went on the air, they could get their hair and makeup done (Mary Horton, from Florida, had her hair French braided). In previous years, contestants have all worn the same official Scripps-branded, oversized white polo shirt, but this year they appeared to be allowed to wear whatever they wanted—a suit vest, red button-down shirt, and red bow tie for Ansun Sujoe, from Texas; a lucky blue scarf for Neha Konakalla, from California. Kate Miller, an eighth grader from Texas, used her favored mnemonic device: air-typing on computer keyboard. But some of the others used a more old-fashioned method of scribbling with a finger-quill on palm-parchment.
In the eighth round, the youngest finalist, Tejas Muthusamy, from Virginia, was eliminated when he misspelled “hallenkirche.” As soon as he heard the dreaded bell indicating his mistake, he sighed into the mic, “Obviously.” His cheeks were as red as the countdown screen behind him. “Aw well, he has three more years of eligibility,” said one announcer. “A star is born, we’re going to see him a lot in this competition,” said the other. Kate Miller, who got out on “exochorion,” took leave of the stage with a practiced parade-princess wave. Upon hearing the correct spelling of the word, she said “That was my first instinct!” and then she left the stage to meet her parents, where she went fully supine on the cry couch.
Things got a little silly in round nine. Everyone in the ballroom had a good laugh when Mary Horton got the word “logodaedaly” (pronounced “log-a-deedle-y”), because it means arbitrary or capricious coinage of words. When Gokul Venkatachalam heard “pampootie,” he made a face and then asked, “Is this Afrikaans?” (It was not.) The pint-sized fourteen-year-old Alia Abad, from Chicago, smiled when she heard the word “buñuelo,” because she loves Spanish. Jacob Williamson, from Florida, the most screechily charismatic of the finalists, was ousted on the word “kabarogoya” even though he thought he knew it.
When only four spellers remained, I got an urgent call from my friend and downstairs neighbor. She was having an allergic reaction—could I accompany her in the cab to the emergency room? I snapped both laptops streaming Bee coverage shut, and slipped into sneakers…
Read the whole post here.