Exploring the pathways of our lexicon
2010 Spelling Bee: On to the Semifinals!
After the first day of competition at the 2010 Scripps National Spelling Bee, the field of 273 contestants has been winnowed down to 48, who will move on to Friday's semifinal round. They'll all be looking to follow in the path of last year's winner, Kavya Shivashankar. As usual, the preliminary rounds featured some fascinatingly obscure words, from famulus (a close attendant, as to a scholar) to nullipara (a woman who has never given birth to a child).
I'm happy to report that sixth-grader Nicholas Rushlow of Pickerington, Ohio is one of the 48 semifinalists, marking the third year in a row that he has made it past the preliminaries. As we reported yesterday, Nicholas is one of the competitors who has used the Visual Thesaurus Spelling Bee as a preparatory tool. (He's also a charming interviewee.) So far, all of his training has served him well, and he's well-positioned to outdo his 17th-place finish last year.
Though it's the National Spelling Bee, the proceedings have developed an increasingly global outlook, with contestants coming from as far away as China and New Zealand. The words, too, have represented the international reach of English, encompassing an eclectic mix of loanwords from foreign languages.
The original pool of spellers had to score well enough (achieving a score of 27 or better) in three rounds: a 50-word written test on Wednesday, and two rounds of spelling on stage, conducted on Thursday. The words on the written test ranged from straightforward (refuse, tacit, callous) to baffling (tocsin, bouleversement, isocryme). But by the time Round Three rolled around on Thursday afternoon, the selected words were uniformly challenging.
Here are some of the highlights from the Round Three words:
- Enough animals to fill a zoo were in the mix, including such oddities as aepyornis (a huge extinct flightless bird of Madagascar), gerenuk (a slender East African antelope), jacamar (a tropical American insectivorous bird), muishond (a southern African weasel), and everybody's favorite crossword beast, unau (a sloth of Central America). Dogs were particularly well-represented, with the breeds
affenpinscher, keeshond, and schipperke.
- Plenty of Russian terms made appearances, including apparatchik, balalaika, commissar, perestroika, and tokamak.
- Italian chipped in with musical terms like acciaccatura, pizzicato, and rallentando, as well as food terms like cappelletti, maraschino, and prosciutto. From German, there was Baedeker, edelweiss, pickelhaube, schottische, and wedel. And Greek had antipodes, chthonic, Croesus, ecdysis, and many more. (The last, referring to the shedding of skin, inspired H.L. Mencken to coin ecdysiast as a fancy term for "striptease artist.")
- Compared to past years, there were relatively few words of French origin. But coincidentally enough, two of the French words referred to types of fabric: moquette and voile.
- Arabic made a strong showing, with halal, izar, mihrab, and salaam. Another word, dragoman, meaning "an interpreter and guide in the Near East," has wound its way through many languages: Aramaic to Arabic to Greek to Latin to Old French to Middle English, to be exact!
You can test your own knowledge of Round Three words in this Community Spelling Bee, or see more words from the preliminary rounds in this word list. The semifinals will air on ESPN Friday starting at 10 a.m. Eastern time, with the finals broadcast on ABC at 8 p.m. Eastern. If you want to get updates on the action, I'll be live-tweeting the semifinal and final rounds on the Visual Thesaurus Twitter feed, so check it out! And I'll be back here on Word Routes Friday night with my final recap.