Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Spelling Bee

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A spelling bee is a competition where contestants, usually children, are asked to spell English words. The concept is thought to have originated in the United States.Today, National Spelling Bee competitions for English are held in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and Indonesia, among others. Similar institutions are also found in numerous other countries such as France's "La dictée" and Poland's "Dyktando". They are rare to nonexistent in countries whose national language follows more phonetic spelling rules, as compared to the largely historical spelling of the English and French languages.


Historically the word bee has been used to describe a get-together where a specific action is being carried out, like a husking bee, a quilting bee, or an apple bee. Its etymology is unclear but possibly derived from the Old English word bēn for prayer.


The earliest evidence of the phrase spelling bee in print dates back to 1825, although the contests had apparently been held before that year. A key impetus for the contests was Noah Webster's spelling books. First published in 1786 and known colloquially as "The Blue-backed Speller," Webster's spelling books were an essential part of the curriculum of all elementary school children in the United States for five generations.

United States

The United States National Spelling Bee was started in 1925 by The Courier-Journal, the newspaper of Louisville, Kentucky. In 1941, the Scripps Howard News Service acquired sponsorship of the program, and the name changed to the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee (later simply "Scripps National Spelling Bee"). As well as covering the 50 U.S. states, several competitors also come from Canada, the Bahamas, New Zealand and Europe.

In the United States, spelling bees are annually held from local levels up to the level of the Scripps National Spelling Bee which awards a cash prize to the winner. The National Spelling Bee is sponsored by English-language newspapers and educational foundations; it is also broadcast on ESPN. Since 2006, the National Spelling Bee's championship rounds have been broadcast on ABC live. In 2005, contestants came from the Bahamas, Jamaica, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Canada, New Zealand, Puerto Rico, and a German military base, as well as the United States. This was the first year that spellers from Canada and New Zealand attended the competition. The final authority for words is the Merriam-Webster unabridged dictionary, the Webster's Third New International Dictionary. The annual study list is available from Scripps, either online or in print.

The National Senior Spelling Bee started in Cheyenne, Wyoming in 1996. Sponsored by the Wyoming AARP, it is open to contestants 50 and older. Maria Dawson is the only contestant to ever win two back to back titles at The National Spelling Bee.


The Spelling Bee of Canada started with a local contest in 1987 in Toronto, Ontario. In 1996, contestants were accepted from other provinces. However, it has been overtaken in media coverage by the newer (and newspaper chain-affiliated) CanSpell National Spelling Bee.

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom a spelling bee is run by The Times newspaper. It was started in 2009.


In Asia, a spelling bee is being conducted up to the international level by MaRRS Spelling Bee. The competition involves learning the correct spelling of words, their use in sentences and in multiple contexts Currently, it is being held in India, Abu Dubai, Ajman, Bahrain, Dubai, Fujairah, Rasal Kaima, Sharja, Umm-Al-Quwain, and Nepal.

School spelling bees

Spelling bee students usually start competition in elementary schools (primary schools) or middle schools. Classes compete against other classes in the same grade, or level, and the winning class is determined by the score of each class.

National spelling bee

Serious spelling bee competitors will study affixes and etymologies, and often foreign languages from which English draws, in order to spell challenging words. Additionally, there have been several preparatory materials, including those published in connection with the Scripps National Spelling Bee and those created by independent organizations not related to Scripps.

For the first several decades of publication, the Scripps annual study booklet was named Words of the Champions, which offered 3,000 words in a list separated into beginning, intermediate, and advanced groupings. In the mid-90s the annual study list changed to Paideia (from the Greek word meaning education and culture), which ultimately contained more than 4,100 words, then again in 2006 to the shorter list, entitled Spell It!, the 2009 edition having 1155 words (911 basic words and 244 challenge words).

The Consolidated Word List, also published by Scripps and available on the National Spelling Bee website, consists of all words used in the National Bee as far back as 1950. It is organized into three section: Words Appearing Infrequently, Words Appearing with Moderate Frequency, and Word Appearing Frequently. Nearly 800 pages and 24,000 words long, the Consolidated Word List is intended for those who have mastered the basics and already gone through Spell It!.
Spelling bee participants also use other reference books, notably the Hexco Academics series of spelling books, which feature strategies, methods and lists to further develop spelling skills. Tutoring materials are also becoming available on the web.

In popular culture

In television

  • A British television show called Spelling Bee, featuring adult contestants and broadcast by the BBC on 31 May 1938, is generally held to have been the world's first television game show.
  • A game show on the former Black Family Channel cable network, Thousand Dollar Bee engaged children in a spelling bee-like competition.
  • The 2004 game show The Great American Celebrity Spelling Bee featured four teams of four celebrities playing for charity. The show was hosted by John O'Hurley, and help for the celebrities was provided by Scripps National Spelling Bee participant Samir Patel.
  • Five episodes of the ESPN show Cheap Seats presented and satirized the taped television coverage of the 1994, 1995, 1996, and 1997 Scripps National Spelling Bees.
  • The NBC game show The Singing Bee is like a spelling bee but instead of spelling words, contestants have to identify lyrics to popular songs.
  • "Spelling Bee," a Saturday Night Live comedy sketch in which Will Forte's character delivers a 75-letter misspelling of the word "business" that includes 12 consecutive q's

In fictional television

  • The 1878 Bret Harte poem "The Spelling Bee at Angels" describes a spelling contest held at a California gold mining camp.
  • A spelling bee features as pioneer family entertainment in Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder, in which Pa 'spells down' the whole town.
  • A spelling bee contest was sponsored by Brazilian TV host Luciano Huck, on his weekly show called "Caldeirão do Huck", since 2007.
Fictional television episodes

In film

In theatre

In literature

Criticism and alternatives

Spelling Bees are sometimes criticized for their exclusive focus on spelling, since they don't require any additional understanding of meaning and usage of the word. Most of the words encountered at larger events like the National Spelling Bee are so rarely used that people commonly question the educational value of the exercise. The Spelling Society frequently stages protests in conjunction with the National Spelling Bee, stating that the English language should be reformed instead of its many anomalies celebrated.
In response to this frequent criticism, three events have sprung up over the years:
  • Win With Words, hosted by GSN, the Network for Games and The Princeton Review was discontinued without further notice after the sponsoring company was bought by another.
  • The National Word Power Challenge (NWPC) by Reader's Digest, was put on hold in 2007/08 after the sponsoring company was bought by another. So far no further statements as to the future of the event have been published.

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