1. The spelling bee is believed to have been started in the United States, prompted by the popularity of the original Noah Webster spelling books printed in 1786; 1825 is when the first known printed reference to a spelling bee is found. (Yeah, but they had so many fewer words back then, right?)
2. 1925 is when the U.S. National Spelling Bee first began. It was originally sponsored by Louisville’s Courier-Journal newspaper; Scripps Howard News Service started sponsoring it in 1941.
3. First winner of the U.S. National Spelling Bee? Frank Neuhauser, age 11, who won on the word “gladiolus.” He died in 2011 at the age of 97. (See? Good spelling is the secret to a long life.)
4. The U.S. also has a National Senior Spelling Bee, started in 1996, for people who are 50 years old or older.
5. The annual national spelling bee of Nigeria is usually referred to as SPELLIT! Nigeria. (The capital letters let you know it’s serious business.)
6. The U.S. National Spelling Bee features a minimum of four rounds of competition, with the first round a written test; rounds two and up are oral and are televised live. (Thank you, ESPN!)
7. Contestants may ask for a word’s definition; what part of speech the word belongs to; for the word to be used in a sentence; for the word’s language of origin; for any alternate pronunciations; and for clarification of the word’s root. (Sure, they can ask, but will they get an answer? Oh…yeah, they do.)
8. The winner of the U.S. National Spelling Bee is awarded $30,000, a $2,500 savings bond, a reference library from Merriam-Webster, $2,600 in reference works, a lifetime membership to Britannica Online Premium from Encyclopædia Britannica, $5,000 cash prize from the Sigma Phi Epsilon Educational Foundation, and an online course and a Nook eReader.
9. In the “Spellingg Bee” episode of the TV series Psych, fake-psychic detective Shawn Spencer impersonates a speller late in the Bee and gives out such early-round words as “banana,” with appropriately inept definitions or uses, e.g., “Anna Banana would like to hear “Venus” by Bananarama.”
10. Among the “winning words” down through the years are “elucubrate” (1980) (to solve, write or compose by working studiously at night), “autochthonous” (2004) (native to the place where found) and “eudaemonic” (1960) (producing happiness or well-being).