Exploring the pathways of our lexicon
May 29, 2008By Ben Zimmer
The annual Scripps National Spelling Bee kicks off today, and every year there seems to be more and more public attention paid to this preeminent spectacle of word-nerdery. As in the past two years, tomorrow's semifinal and final rounds are being broadcast live on national television (semifinals on ESPN from 11 am to 2 pm, finals on ABC from 8 to 10 pm). It's always exciting to see middle-schoolers battle it out for the spelling crown, in a competition rife with dramatic "thrill of victory" and "agony of defeat" moments (most memorably depicted in the suspenseful documentary Spellbound). Adults can only marvel at the preternatural abilities of the young finalists to spell super-obscure words that most of us have seldom — if ever — come across. Where do they get those words, anyway? Continue reading...