This Week’s Language Blog Roundup: spelling bee, swearing, French kiss

bees wallpaper

Yesterday was all about the Scripps National Spelling Bee. Congratulations to 13-year old Arvind Mahankali of Bayside Hills, New York. Arvind won the 86th Scripps National Spelling Bee by correctly spelling knaidel, “a type of dumpling eaten by Jews during Passover.”

Knaidel is Yiddish in origin by way of German, and after misspelling German words two years in a row, Arvind proclaimed that “the German curse has turned into a German blessing.”

Check out all the words from the final round of the Bee, as well as all the winning words starting from 1925.

In other bee news, Ben Zimmer discussed this year’s change to the rules that required competitors to know the definitions of the words they were spelling. Mashable rounded up 10 spelling bee words we’d definitely mess up, Mental Floss reminded us of 13 words that knocked out Scripps Bee finalists, and we confessed to common words we still can’t spell.

At the Macmillan Dictionary blog, Gill Francis discussed dangling modifiers and Simon Williams told the story behind the phrase, as rare as hen’s teeth.

At Lingua Franca, Anne Curzan looked at more importantly; Allan Metcalf redefined the dictionary; Ben Yagoda played the the card and suggested smart as an early contender for the word of the year. Lucy Ferriss thought getting rid of the apostrophe might be a good idea, and Matthew J.X. Malady at Slate agreed.

Inventor of the GIF, Steve Wilhite, told us the proper way to pronounce the acronym, while Stan Carey assured as we can pronounce it however we like, and also gave a reactive defense of the word, proactive.

James Harbeck relayed the delights and frustration of off-road grammar; dissected the linguistics behind seven annoying teenage sounds; and clarified some preposition confusion. Kory Stamper explained how pop culture words become official.

The Dialect Blog examined the pronunciation of Manhattan; the differing pronunciations of the letter t in butter and button; and the word goombye.

In words of the week, Fritinancy noted HOHO, which stand for hop-on hop-off and “describes a type of sightseeing bus that allows passengers to disembark whenever they reach a stop that interests them, then re-board when it’s convenient”; and tick-tock, “journalism jargon for a story that recounts events in chronological order, as if accompanied by the soundtrack of a ticking clock.”

The Word Spy spotted smartphone face, “a drooping jawline and saggy jowls caused by neck muscles that have been shortened from constantly looking down at a smartphone or similar device,” while Erin McKean brought to our attention, fondleslab, another word for the iPhone, iPad, or similar device, as opposed to grandpa box, a desktop computer.

Erin’s weekly word choices also included magicicadas, periodical cicadas; nixtamalization, “dried corn treated with lye or lime,” and bodag, a special Roma bread.

The Altantic took a look at a new book, Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing, focusing on how Romans swore, while Salon excerpted the book.  Meanwhile, Medium recounted the history of fuck yeah on Tumblr.

McSweeney’s gave us some updates to the new Newspeak dictionary, while several words were added to Le Petit Robert, a popular French dictionary, including bombasse, “a noun used to describe a curvy female”; chelou, “slang for someone or something of dubious character”; and galoche, the French kiss. Well, it’s about time.

That’s it for this week!

[Photo: CC BY 2.0 by Jelene Morris]

Spelling Confessions: Words We Still Can’t Spell

The Ferrers-Walker Memorial Kitchen Garden - Beware of the Bees - sign

Tomorrow are the semi-final and final rounds of the 2013 Scripps National Spelling Bee. Talented orthographers aged 8 to 14 will be tasked with spelling difficult words such as last year’s winner, guetapens, or the winner from 2012, cymotrichous.

However, many of us still have difficulty spelling even the simplest of words. We asked our followers on Twitter and fellow Reverbers what kinds of words still trip them up.

Double consonants were a common culprit. Words such as accommodate, disappointed, embarrassed, occurrence, unnecessary, immediately, and of course misspell, sent many folks to Google and dictionaries (such as [cough] Wordnik [cough]). Mischievous received a couple of votes with that pesky alternate pronunciation that adds an extra i in the penultimate syllable.

French-derived words, often with silent vowels, were the bane of many an existence, including bourgeois and bourgeoisie, bureau, bureaucracy, and bureaucrat, guarantee, nausea and nauseous, restaurant and restaurateur. “‘Restaurant’ I’m fine with,” said Drew Mackie, “but ‘restaurateur’ I bungle. Dumb, vanishing ‘n.'” We agree.

For others, silent consonants were the tricksters in words like Buddhist, lasagna, rhythm, silhouette, and surprise. “Is there an r or isn’t there?!!!!!!!” asked @miarose. There is, as Jim Nabors knows.

Sometimes it’s our fingers that do the misspellings. One Reverb developer noted that he often spells password as passwd “because of too much time with Apache,” while another used to constantly misspell myself as mysql. One New England native confessed that he often writes main as maine, while another Reverber’s fingers type reasearch when she very well knows it’s research.

Other words are simply too much alike. Who hasn’t spelled weather as wheather (“a bad spell of weather,” as a Reverber put it), or whether as wether? As David Habib noted, “‘Wether‘ is a word and always passes spellcheck.”

For still others, the variant is more well-known. Several of us were astounded to learn that the correct spelling of supercede is actually supersede, and one Reverber relayed how he lost a spelling bee by spelling doughnut as donut, which we all agreed was wholly unfair.

And damn all those alike-sounding vowels! Is it anomalous or anamolous, anomaly or anamoly, anonymity or anonimity? How about definitely or definately, privilege or privelege,  separate or seperate? (The first word is right for all those by the way.)

We’ve just about given up on learning how to spell these words correctly, and will leave the art of orthography to the experts.

Speaking of which, be sure to join us on Twitter on Thursday as we live-tweet the semi-final and final rounds of the Scripps Bee.

Happy (mis)spelling!

[Photo: CC BY 2.0 by Elliott Brown]

2012 National Spelling Bee Recap

Earlier this week, 278 spellers from around the world gathered together to compete in the 85th Scripps National Spelling Bee. Yesterday 14-year old Snigdha Nandipati of San Diego, California won with guetapens, which means “an ambush; an attack.”

We here at Wordnik had great fun yesterday live-tweeting the seminfinal and championship rounds. In between biting our nails for the young spellers, we tweeted defintions, etymologies, example sentences, and other fun facts about these difficult words. First up, the semifinal round:

Next, the final round:

Curious about all the words from the final round? We’ve put them in a handy list and have updated the list of all the winning words.

Congratulations once again to Snigdha and all the spellers!

We’re Under Your Spell: Scripps National Spelling Bee

Have you heard the buzz? It’s Bee Week, which means elite spellers from around the world are coming together to practice some orthography and compete for the 2012 Scripps National Spelling Bee championship.

To celebrate, we’ll be live-tweeting the semifinal and championship rounds on Thursday, May 31, from 10 AM to 1 PM and 8 PM to 10 PM EDT, respectively. Join us as we cheer on the competitors and provide etymologies, lists, images, and other fun facts about the words the spellers spell. Follow us on Twitter and look out for the official Scripps Bee hashtag, #spellingbee.

Can’t wait till Thursday? Play Spelling Bee Bingo by guessing what you think will be this year’s winning word. You can enter as many times as you want. The winner gets a Wordnik T-shirt and other swag.

The first national spelling bee was held in 1925 “as a consolidation of numerous local spelling bees,” and was won by 11-year old Frank Neuhauser, who passed away in March 2011 at 97. Neuhauser spelled gladiolus correctly to beat out eight other finalists and win “$500 in gold, a bicycle and a trip to the White House to meet President Calvin Coolidge.”

But the art of correct spelling, or orthography, wasn’t always so valued. Spelling in Old English texts was so variable that now they “are generally ‘normalized’,” says Rice University, “or printed in accordance with what scholars think is a good representative form for each word.” It wasn’t until the 15th century and the advent of the printer that the word orthography even came about. Since then English spelling has seen many changes, such as Latinizing (det becoming debt due to the Latin debitum); attempts at spelling reform; problems with reform; spellcheck; when spellcheck won’t help; autocorrect and the Cupertino effect.

This week’s competitors won’t have – or need – spellcheck or autocorrect. In fact they probably know most of these sometimes-obscure correctly spelled words that look like misspellings of other words; all the winning words from 1925’s gladiolus to 2011’s cymotrichous, “characterized by having waving hair”; and these guesses from last year’s Spelling Bee Bingo. They’ll have no need for the Oatmeal’s hilarious explanation of 10 words we must stop misspelling, and would laugh as hard as we did at this roundup of ridiculous, and frighteningly common, spelling mistakes on Twitter.

We look forward to seeing some amazing “spells” cast this Thursday. Remember to join us on Twitter as we live-tweet the semifinal and championship rounds.

Best of luck to all the spellers!

2011 Spelling Bee Recap

Late last week in the word world, it was about everything Bee – the Scripps National Spelling Bee, that is.  Every year 275 spellers enter, and one speller leaves – this year that speller was 14-year old Sukanya Roy of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, winning with cymotrichous, which means “characterized by having wavy hair.”

We here at Wordnik celebrated the Bee in a couple of ways.  We hosted a Spelling Bee Bingo, in which we invited you to guess as to what the winning word might be for a chance to win a Wordnik T-shirt and other schwag.  While no one guessed the wavy-haired word, someone did pose three guesses that ended up in the final roundandouille, grison, and polatouche – and for us that’s close enough.

Congratulations to Amy Goldstein!  Not only is Amy a repeat Secret Word Wednesday winner, she made it to the final round of the Bee in 1998 before missing on the word aitch, which, understandably, is her least favorite word.

In addition to bingo, we live-tweeted the last day of competition. Rather than try to summarize, we’ll let our Tweets speak for themselves!

Finally, the Bee looked like so much fun, we can’t wait till next year. So we’ll be hosting our own spelling bee in the near future, and would love any suggestions from those of you in the Bay Area for bars that might be interested in hosting such an event. Drinks, prizes, and give-aways will be available!

Till then, study up!

Wordnik, W-O-R-D-N-I-K, Wordnik

Buzz buzz, the 84th Annual Scripps National Spelling Bee starts today!

From May 31 through June 2, elite spellers from around the world will compete for the 2011 Scripps National Spelling Bee championship. The winner receives some nifty prizes, including $30,000 cash, scholarship funds, and a Nook eReader.

Of course we here at Wordnik love spelling and the Bee, so much so that we’ll be live-tweeting the final championship round this Thursday, June 2, starting at 8:30 PM eastern time. Join us for our live commentary by following us on Twitter.

But we also have all-things-spelling you can check out now, such as tags of all the winning words over the years, from gladiolus“the center part of the sternum; any of several flowering plants, of the genus Gladiolus” in 1925, to last year’s stromuhr, “an instrument for measuring the velocity of blood flow.”

You want lists? We got lists, from unrecognizable spelling bee words, to recognizable ones, (and more here and here). We have lists of potential spelling bee words, of different types of bees, and of words that look misspelled but aren’t.

Speaking of misspellings, Wordnik pal Ben Zimmer spoke with Scripps News about bad spellers in history, including Abraham Lincoln, and the dangers of spellcheckers and automatic correction.

Still not enough bee-ness for you? Think you can guess the word that will win the 2011 bee? We’ve started an open list for your guesses (2011 Spelling Bee Bingo) and if you guess the winning word, we’ll send you a Wordnik t-shirt and other Wordnik schwag! (If you’re not the betting type, you can also play this totally addictive spelling bee game from Visual Thesaurus.)

Also remember to join us on Twitter this Thursday as we live-tweet the championship round.

Best of luck to all the spellers!