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!