Winning Words ~Tanya Hanson

It’s “bee” season around here. No, not hives or honey, but words. My local newspaper has sponsored the county spelling bee for more than fifty years. This year, some 16,000 students from grades three-through-eight participated in classroom spelling bees in our county’s 138 schools. Ultimately, 13 area students competed at the county level, the final champ winning an all-expenses paid trip to the 86th Annual 2011 Scripps National Spelling Bee to be held in Washington DC, June 1-2.

Since bees are such social insects, the word “bee” became the collective noun in the 1800’s for gatherings of people doing all sorts of things, from building barns, husking corn, and sewing quilts. Throughout the 19th Century, popular “education exhibitions” of students showing off their academic skills in subjects such as spelling and geography came to be called “bees” as well. The concept of the “spelling bee” is almost certainly original to the United States.

The earliest use of the term “spelling bee” in print dates to 1825 although the contests certainly had been held long before that. One key force behind spelling contests was the Noah Webster Spelling Book. First published in 1786, the “Blue-backed spellers” were essential parts of any American elementary school for five generations. Nowadays, kids use the Merriam Webster dictionary.

In  April 1850, the first “official” references to the term “spelling bee” appeared in  New York Monthly Magazine.

The year 1875 saw an enormous event in the history of the spelling bee. The Asylum Hill Congregational Church in Hartford, Connecticut, sponsored a huge spelling bee, and the event started out with a humorous monologue by the town’s most famous resident, Mark Twain. In his Autobiography, the author indeed  assures readers he was a masterful speller as a schoolboy.

 In 1925, the United States National Spelling bee was inaugurated by The Courier-Journal newspaper of Louisville, Kentucky. The first winner of an official spelling bee was Andrew Smith. Scripps Howard News Service acquired ownership of the national program inn 1941 and changed the name to the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee. Today, the National Spelling Bee is sponsored by English-language newspapers and educational foundations. The top “masterful spellers” come from all fifty states as well as Canada, the Bahamas, New Zealand and Europe. Winners receive a cash award.

Typically, a spelling bee is a competition to spell English words. Spelling Bee Competitions are also held United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Indonesia, and India. Similar competitions are held as France’s “La dictée” and Poland’s “Dyktando”.

Spelling Bees are virtually nonexistent in countries whose national language follows more phonetic spelling rules, as compared to the largely historical spelling of the English and French languages.

 The winning words this year from our 13 area champs were chimichanga, impervious, sukiyaki, Esperanto, tournament, grotesqueness, barrow, olympiad (twice), propaganda, magnolia, prodigal, and android.


Now who of you out there don’t remember spelling bee scenes from such favorite shows as Little House on the Prairie or Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman?

Have you ever been in a spelling bee? I represented my school as an 8th grader, and misspelling “abscess” still haunts me.

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35 thoughts on “Winning Words ~Tanya Hanson”

  1. My sympathies, Tanya. I think I was in the 4th grade when I made it to the county bee, but I will never forget the word I lost on – hangar.

    Last year a local girl tied for 2nd in the Scripps National Spelling Bee. We are a very small rural community (county population about 6000), and everyone was so excited and proud of her.

  2. Love this, Tanya. The only spelling bees I’ve ever been were in grade school, but I was the best speller in my class. The only time I didn’t win was when my friend, who was ahead of me in line, pulled me into her place when she couldn’t spell the word that was coming up. I spelled it but the teacher made me sit down (amid hoots from my classmates because I was never wise enough to keep my smarts to myself).
    In high school English, the very traditional teacher drilled us with this little yellow book of tricky spelling words. Can’t remember the name of it, but the author had such an unforgettable name: Tobias O. Chew. Gotta use it in a book someday. I credit Mr. Chew for making me an even better speller. But what the heck, today I’ve got SPELLCHECK!!
    Thanks for a great blog.

  3. Tanya, what a fun post! Our family is an odd combination of very good spellers and very poor ones. Fortunately, the poor spellers are good at math so we complement each other. I always thought that spelling and math came from the same side of the brain–but maybe not.

  4. Hi Elizabeth, too funny! And I totally agree. You can’t let Tobias O. Chew go to waste. SpellCheck is a great thing, isn’t it? As long as we click on the correct spelling LOL. When I was a college counselor, the admissions rep from Pepperdine University shared with us about the letter from the kid who couldn’t wait to go to “Pepperoni” University. Yes, that’s one of the choices!

    Thanks for posting today. oxoxoox

  5. Hi Margaret, I am wretched at math and a very good speller so I know for sure LOL it’s not the same side of the brain LOL. Then again, I’ve always been an avid reader. Maybe that helps, too. Thanks for joining me here today. oxoxxo

  6. Spelling has never been a strong point for me so I always shyed away from Spelling Bees. I still can’t spell today. I have to keep a dictionary by myside most of the time.

  7. I was in a spelling bee in elementary school (can’t remember what grade.) I didn’t win. If memory serves me right I was rather relieved that I misspelled the word. Can’t recall which word it was. But I was relieved because I hated being in front of the huge crowd. I’m terribly shy, but I’m lots better now that I used to be.

    It’s very interesting to learn how the word “bee” came to be used. Makes perfect sense though.

  8. Hi Quilt lady, I have always had a dictionary nearby, even with spellcheck…I love learning new words.
    When I taught English, my main theme was, not all of us are good spellers by nature. So use the dictionary! Spelling still counts. Thanks for posting today.

  9. Hi Linda, I am awfully shy, too. I remember sheer terror getting up on that stage. I was never bothered being in front of a classroom, it’s just the peers that gets to me. I’m doing a presentation at our local library in a couple of months and already panic is starting. Thanks so much for stopping by today, oxoxoxox.

  10. Oh, I used to LOVE spelling bees, though I admit I never won – and I also don’t remember which words I misspelled. I almost always got 100% on my spelling tests, which my brothers hated, lol! Great post Tanya!

  11. Tanya, Leave it to you to blog about a subject near and dear to the hearts of all writers. 🙂 My dh and I love the DC finals and watch every year.

    My dh can’t spell for sh**, so I keep him out of trouble in that regard. He “are” an engineer, so I rely on him for help when the going gets rough. Since I was a bookkeeper in one of my lives, I can handle basic math, no sweat.

    My worst bugaboo is second-guessing myself. I’ll type a word and it doesn’t “look right.” And I’m sure those of you who write Western can relate to my ongoing misspelling of words like road rather than rode, rains rather than reins. Aargh!

  12. Hi Linda, I know all about those nerves. Abscess happened to be a word I knew LOL. I am a very visual person, though so I probably would have gotten it right on paper.

    Joyce, that brings me to your “look right” idea. Visual person or not, I can get stymied sometimes with a regular every day word. Like “of.” One day it just threw me. Sigh.

    Thanks, friends, for posting today. oxoxox

  13. What a wonderful post, Tanya! I always loved spelling bees in school – but, of course, we always love the things we’re good at. LOL I would love to “look inside” one of those old Blue-back Spellers!

  14. Hi Tanya — Loved learning the common spelling bee words!! I’m good at spelling, mostly but I never entered a formal bee, but often I’d win the ones in class! Great history lesson today!

  15. Hi Racquel, and as a teacher, I confess I am fascinated by home schooling! I’m so glad you stopped by today.

    Delia, I actually have an old speller from 1890! It’s pretty beat-up but so fun to look at. I found it in an antique trunk I bought at auction during my college days in Nebraska. Little did I know LOL. Thanks for posting today.

  16. Charlene, I guess like Delia said, we always enjoy the things we’re good at. I always misspell “desperate” as “despArate” no matter how good I think I am or how hard I try LOL.

    So glad you stopped by, my dear friend.

  17. HI Tanya, I’m not good at spelling or math. Just good at story-telling. I think my spelling is poor because I learned to read before I ever went to school.
    Very interesting post!

  18. Hy Anne, how nice to hear from you. I don’t even remember learning to read. It just seemed to happen LOL. Math, now, I hated it. Balancing my checkbook is torture.

  19. I loved spelling bees as a kid but now I stink at it. I don’t recall ever having any outside the school, but I think my daughter went to a county one.

  20. I was in one but got elminated pretty early on – I was very nervous and I wasn’t one of those kids that read the dictionary lol. I have found that many times words are spelled wrong because they aren’t pronounced correctly. Does anyone think young people even use the dictionary anymore?

  21. Hi Aileen, I think I’d pass out if I had to be in a spelling bee now. Having to call up such brain power so suddenly. Whew. I don’t think my kids made it very far into their school bees although they were pretty smart LOL. Thank for posting today.

  22. hi Catslady, I dunno. With smartphones and Spellcheck, I doubt it LOL. I used to have dictionary work when I taught school, but…that’ been a few years now, before technology overcame us. Thanks so much for visiting P and P today.

  23. Hi Tanya,

    I was always a good speller in school, and it seemed like everytime we’d have a spelling bee it would come down between me and one other girl, Lisa Branscum. Most times, she would win. But I’ve (thank goodness) always been able to look at a word and just think, “That doesn’t look right.” So proofing comes very easy for me. Those words jump out at me. Great post–I really enjoyed seeing those old books.

  24. hi Paty, thanks so much for stopping by. Thinking back, I remember how terrified I was. But it was fun doing the bee at school.

    Cheryl, what a fun memory to have. Do you ever keep in touch with her?

    Thanks for posting, both of you!

  25. Late, but here I am. I never connected “bee hive” or “bees” with a guilting bee, a corn-husking bee, a barn-raising bee–very interesting. I have always loved the outcome of spelling bees, but have been in one my entire life.
    When? you ask. Well, when I was a teacher in a small rural consolidated school system in Oklahoma. The little town where I taught had the high school, and another little town 15 miles south had the elementary school. These were all farm kids, except for a few Native American kids who rode their horses to school.
    So, for some entertainment one year, the teachers were in a spelling bee in an assembly for the kids and parents. Hahaha. This was every teacher, no matter the subject (I taught all the sciences), and the coaches. So, here we go. The coaches got eliminated quickly, and one by one, until we were down to me and the math teacher–a young woman. Well, hey, I won! I’m a good speller.
    So, I won the only Spelling bee I ever entered, and I beat every teacher in the school.
    What did that get me? Absolutely nothing.
    Except my husband was proud of me. Celia

  26. Oh, the memories of my first bee in sixth grade! I was in a small school, only eight people in my class. All the schools in the county gathered in the county court house. FIrst we had a written test, I received Honorable Mention. Then to the packed court house where we all nervously lined up in front. I spelled my first two words correctly, then my word was “toothache” which I, being very phonetic, spelled “toothake”. Oh, well, it gave my siblings sopmething to tease me about for a very long time. I hope I spelled everything correctly now!

  27. Hi Celia, what a delightful story. A proud hubby sure is the best prize I can think of. You did good, science teacher! I love the image of the Native American kids coming to school on horseback. Thanks for posting today!

  28. HI Nancy, knowing your siblings LOL, I can see how they teased you. You are a very good speller today!

    Kathy, you are absolutely a rockin’ police officer. Will you miss it in retirement? Now you can get your crime stories off the ground!

    Thanks to all my friends for posting today. The folks who visit Wildflowr Junction absolutely are the best!

  29. It was the fifth grade for me, won our
    classroom’s bee, but lost in the school’s

    Pat Cochran

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