The Scripps National Spelling Bee: Some Fascinating Facts

Games GeekMom

We are in the midst of the 84th Scripps National Spelling Bee Week in the Washington, D.C., area.  I’ve watched the competition with interest most years — although not with the same enthusiasm my family watches the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest every July 4thI find it especially cool that ESPN chooses to air the finals every June and this year the preliminaries streamed live on ESPN3.

Over the years I’ve noticed some interesting trends.  I’m a statistics girl, and I find it easier to present you some fascinating facts about the spelling bee:

1. Are the winning words getting more difficult?  Check out the list of winning words here.  Do you see a trend from mostly Germanic words that (to me) are seemingly straightforward to sound out, use in context and use basic etymology…to some serious Latin, Greek and other Romantic language-based words?  Consider words such as fracas (1930), intelligible (1935), and therapy (1940).  Compare those to antediluvian (1994), chiaroscurist (1998) and appoggiatura (2005).  I think this speaks volumes to the increased diversity in the English language as well as the capabilities of America’s 8-14 year olds’ spelling skills over the years.  We trust that our kids are more capable than ever before!

2. Homeschooled students are demonstrating their excellence!  According to this article published on May 31st featuring San Angelo, Texas’s National Spelling Bee contestant, even though homeschooling accounts for only 2.9% of American schoolchildren, 9.8% of this year’s 275 contestants are homeschooled.  Homeschooled students have won the spelling bee four times — will they take home the prize a 5th time this year?

3. Gender.  I don’t consider 45 female winners vs. 41 male winners overwhelming, but it still put a smile on my face.

4. Diversity, at least among Indian-Americans.  I have to admit, before I found the statistic elsewhere (see link in #3), I attempted to discern the split of the genders of the winners over the past 83 years by manually counting the male vs. female winners.  I also have to admit, when I got to 1985, I didn’t know whether Balu Natarajan of Chicago, Illinois, was a male or female.  (He’s a male).  Then there were nine more names whose genders I simply didn’t know (sorry!).  It turns out they are all Indian-Americans.

5. More diversity.  In 1998 Jody-Anne Maxwell of Kingston, Jamaica became the first (and only) non-American resident to win the bee.

6. The Department of Defense Dependents Schools (DoDDS) sends contestants.  Sponsored by the Stars and Stripes newspaper, which is published for American servicemembers living overseas, students can enter through their on-base schools.  Twelve-year-old Anuk Dayaprema, whose father is serving in the US Army in Vicenza, Italy, is representing DoDDS Europe schools.

7. He’s HOW OLD?  There is an 8-year-old third-grader competing this year! I think about my own 8-year-old being able to spell xanthosis (1995) and my head spins!

8. Our very own GeekMom Jessamyn Tracy was a two-time competitor in 1989 and 1990.  Jessamyn also provided us some insight yesterday about how folks can use etymology to succeed in spelling in this day of autocorrect.

9. Want more statistics?  Visit this link to view even more statistics about this year’s 275 contestants.  They’ve broken down everything from how many are only children vs. with siblings, how many are repeat performers, as well as age and grade distributions.

I certainly plan to watch the spelling bee with the kids this week.  Will you?

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5 thoughts on “The Scripps National Spelling Bee: Some Fascinating Facts

  1. I will now that I found out a local girl made it through to the final 41 with Egregious and Nostradamus.

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