The Corner


A Positively Singular Bee

From left: Shruthika Padhy, 13, of Cherryhill, N.J.; Erin Howard, 14, of Huntsville, Ala.; Rishik Gandhasri, 13, of San Jose, Calif.; Christopher Serrao, 13, of Whitehouse Station, N.J.; Saketh Sundar, 13, Clarksville, Md.; Sohum Sukhatankar, 13, of Dallas, Texas; Rohan Raja, 13, of Irving, Texas; and Abhijay Kodali, 12, of Flower Mound, Texas, celebrate their eight-way tie in the final round of the Scripps National Spelling Bee in National Harbor, Md., May 31, 2019. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

What does a photodynamic South-African sheep disease (Geeldikkop), navel-gazing hesychastic prayer (omphalopsychite), and Dionysian theatre altars of antique Greece (thymele) have in common? Frankly, not much. But each word from which these definitions derive featured in the 92nd annual Scripps National Spelling Bee.

This year stood out not merely for the number of words with enough syllables to make any red-blooded American sweat, but for the final number of champions.

The bee began on Sunday, with 562 competitors, all of whom were no more than 15 years old or beyond eighth grade, and concluded yesterday. On Thursday, May 30, at the 17th of 20 rounds, for the first time in a long time, the dictionary seemed to have met its matches.

Dr. Jacques Bailly, who has been the official pronouncer of the Scripps Spelling Bee since 2003, declared to the finalists: “we’re throwing the dictionary at you and so far, you are showing the dictionary who is boss.”

At the end of the 20 rounds, there were still a total of eight co-champions: Rishik Gandhasri; Erin Howard; Saketh Sundar; Shruthika Padhy; Sohum Sukhatankar; Abhijay Kodali; Christopher Serrao; and Rohan Raja.

When Erin Howard received her final word, erysipelas, the name of a bacterial skin infection, she nearly wept with joy. Surely one of few people to react to that word without consternation or confusion.

There have been co-champions in previous years, but never as many as eight at once. Some spelling bee veterans expressed disapproval following the result. Rahul Walia, the founder of the South Asian Spelling Bee, said that “this would never happen at my bee…They need to use harder words. The words are available.”

Although it is true that many of the roots of the words used in the final rounds were traceable, and the bee featured few totally etymologically ambiguous or anomalous words, another cause of this year’s surfeit of successful spellers is also likely the formalization of studying techniques.

Scott Remer, author of Words of Wisdom: Keys to Success in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, commenting on the extraordinary end to the bee, told the Atlantic that “a great speller not only knows a lot of words, but can basically spell even words they haven’t practiced before—because they understand the logic and the languages, and they’re able to apply word roots to novel words that they run across.”

Supposedly with the help of Remer’s book and devoted tutors, more and more children have mastered the formula for bee success, hence the octo-champions.

No matter the explanation, more nimble spellers seems like a boon to us all.  And besides the satisfaction of a job well done, each winner will receive a $50,000 prize.

Congratulations! Felicitations! Accolations! And so on and so forth, et cetera, et cetera.  

Well done, young cognoscenti!

VIEW SLIDESHOW: Scripps National Spelling Bee

Most Popular


In Defense of Coleman Hughes

Picture the scene: A young man walks into a congressional hearing to offer witness testimony. His grandfather was barbarically brutalized by people who are now long dead. The nation in which he resides built its wealth of his grandfather’s brutalization. The question: Should his fellow citizens pay the young ... Read More
Film & TV

Toy Story 4: A National Anthem

The Toy Story franchise is the closest thing we have to an undisputed national anthem, a popular belief that celebrates what we think we all stand for — cooperation, ingenuity, and simple values, such as perpetual hope. This fact of our infantile, desensitized culture became apparent back in 2010 when I took a ... Read More

College Leaders Should Learn from Oberlin

Thanks to their social-justice warrior mindset, the leaders of Oberlin College have caused an Ohio jury to hit it with $44 million in compensatory and punitive damages in a case where the school couldn't resist the urge to side with its “woke” students against a local business. College leaders should learn ... Read More

Joe and the Segs

Joe Biden has stepped in it, good and deep. Biden, if he has any hope of ever being elected president, will be dependent on residual goodwill among African Americans from his time as Barack Obama’s loyal and deferential vice president — so deferential, in fact, that he stood aside for Herself in 2016 even ... Read More
Politics & Policy

The Madcap Caution of Donald Trump

The worry last week was that the Trump administration was ginning up fake intelligence about Iran blowing up oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz to justify a war against Iran. Then, this week, President Donald Trump said the Iranian attacks weren’t a big deal. The episode is another indication of the ... Read More
Film & TV

Fosse/Verdon and the Dismal #MeToo Obsession

In the final episode of Fosse/Verdon, one of the two titular characters, Bob Fosse, is shooting one of the greatest films of all time. The other, Gwen Verdon, is having a quarrel with her unspeakably dull boyfriend about whether he approves of her performing in a road-show production of a Broadway musical. These ... Read More