The Scripps Spelling Bee, held annually in Washington, DC, ends today. I mentioned earlier this week that I used to be a competitive speller, although I never made it past the city finals. One of my longest-owned possessions is a small stuffed dog that was a gift from my classmate Scott Casper, thanking me for helping him prepare for the national spelling bee in 1978 or 1979. He had beaten me when competed for rival schools, he beat me when we competed at Norfolk Academy, and he came very close to winning the whole thing.
I don't remember the word that defeated him, but here are five that have made champions over the Bee's 85-year history. Definitions are adapted from the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language.
1. Gladiolus, 1925. Glad-ee-OH-lus, botany: any of numerous plants of the genus Gladiolus, native chiefly to tropical and southern Africa and having sword-shaped leaves and showy, variously colored, irregular flowers arranged in one-sided spikes; also anatomy, the large middle section of the sternum.
2. Crustaceology, 1955. This word doesn't even get a separate entry in the dictionary, but is pronounced kru-stay-see-OL-o-gee and I wish it meant "the study of Krusty the Klown," but it doesn't. It means the study of crustaceans, any of various predominantly aquatic arthropods of the class Crustacea, including lobsters, crabs, shrimps and barnacles. Crustaceans characteristically have segmented bodies, tough, semitransparent exoskeletons, and paired, joined limbs.
3. Smaragdine, 1961. Smuh-RAG-deen, of or relating to emeralds, or having the color of emeralds. No, I didn't know what this word meant, either. Probably because I don't own any emeralds.
4. Logorrhea, 1999. Law-guh-REE-uh, excess use of words. This is a handy word to know, and I encourage you to add it to your active vocabulary. It's one of those rare words that means exactly what it sounds like: diarrhea of the mouth. Or the pen.
5. Laodicean, 2009. Lay-ahd-ih-SEE-an, of or relating to the ancient Asia Minor city of Laodicea (present-day Western Turkey), but more commonly used to mean "indifferent or lukewarm, especially in matters of religion." Laodicea was an early center of Christianity; it is mentioned in Paul's letter to the Colossians, and is one of the seven churches addressed in the book of Revelations, where John scolded them for being "neither cold nor hot." Presumably, that's where this use of the word comes from. It is used as a proper adjective, always capitalized.