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4 of your questions about the Scripps National Spelling Bee, answered

How do contestants qualify for the spelling bee and what do they win? These and other questions will be answered

SHARE 4 of your questions about the Scripps National Spelling Bee, answered
Sarah Fernandes, 11, from Omaha, Neb., competes during the Scripps National Spelling Bee, Wednesday, May 31, 2023, in Oxon Hill, Md.

Sarah Fernandes, 11, from Omaha, Neb., competes during the Scripps National Spelling Bee, Wednesday, May 31, 2023, in Oxon Hill, Md. The finals for the competition are Thursday.

Nathan Howard, Associated Press

The Scripps National Spelling Bee is back for the 95th time.

Last year’s winner, Harini Logan, became the first-ever champion to win in a spell-off, while 2021’s winner, Zaila Avant-garde, stole “the heart of Americans,” Deseret News reported.

“Done properly, spelling is applied linguistics, a process of logical reasoning, like chess; words are like puzzles or math equations,” Scott Remer wrote for The Guardian in 2021.

1. Why is it called a ‘spelling bee’?

Using the word “bee” to describe the spelling contest stems from a modification to the Middle English word “bene,” and Merriam-Webster defines it as: “voluntary help given by neighbors toward the accomplishment of a particular task.”

Nine newspapers joined together in 1925 to hold the first National Spelling Bee. The Scripps Howard News Service started holding the event in 1941 and continues to do so, with assistance from local sponsors, per NBC4 Washington.

2. What are the rules for the Scripps National Spelling Bee?

Here are the rules, according to the Scripps National Spelling Bee:

  • Students receive a number and come to the mic to spell in the same order for each round.
  • The “Classroom Pronouncer Guide” provides alternate pronunciations, parts of speech, definitions and ways to use the word in a sentence.
  • If the student spells the word correctly, they advance.
  • If the student spells the word incorrectly, they are automatically out.
  • Once a student starts spelling, they have to use the letters they’ve already said. So if a student asks to start over, they can, but they have to start with the letters they’ve already said in the order they said them in.

Here’s how to qualify, per the Scripps National Spelling Bee:

  • The school must be enrolled in the Scripps program.
  • Competition starts within one classroom in spellers ages seven to 15.
  • From the classroom, winners then compete in the grade level or at school level.
  • The school winners advance to district or county competition.
  • From there, the winners go on to regional or state bees to qualify for the nationals.
  • At nationals, competition breaks into four segments: the preliminaries, the quarterfinals, the semifinals and concludes with the finals.

3. What do winners of the Scripps National Spelling Bee win?

The champion speller takes home a $50,000 cash prize, a commemorative medal and the official Scripps Cup trophy from the Scripps National Spelling Bee, as well as a $2,500 cash prize from Merriam-Webster, and $400 worth of reference works from “Encyclopedia Britannica,” per Scripps National Spelling Bee.

Winners in the final rounds receive the following:

  • 2nd place: $25,000.
  • 3rd place: $15,000.
  • 4th place: $10,000.
  • 5th place: $5,000.
  • 6th place: $2,500.

4. What are the winning words in Scripps National Spelling Bee?

Each year, Scripps releases a list of hundreds of words in three categories of difficulty — One bee, Two bee and Three bee.

In 1925, 11-year-old Frank Neuhauser from Kentucky correctly spelled the word “gladiolus” to clinch the first-ever title, $500 in gold pieces and a trip to the White House, per Business Insider.

Spelling the winning word has gotten significantly more difficult over the years. Per Wikipedia, here are the winning words from the most recent 10 years:

  • 2012: Guetapens.
  • 2013: Knaidel.
  • 2014: Feuilleton; stichomythia.
  • 2015: Scherenschnitte; nunatak.
  • 2016: Feldenkrais, gesellschaft.
  • 2017: Marocain.
  • 2018: Koinonia.
  • 2019: Auslaut; erysipelas; bougainvillea; aiguillette; pendeloque; palama; cernuous; odylic (an unprecedented eight-way tie prompted new rules to have just one winner).
  • 2021: Murraya.

  • 2022: Moorhen — not including the 22 of an attempted 26 words spelled correctly in a spell-off to win.

Here’s how to watch the Scripps National Spelling Bee

The New York Times reported, “Viewership of the finals in 2022 was up 147 percent year over year and was seen by 7.5 million viewers — the largest television audience since 2015.”

Watch the finals live on Thursday at 6 p.m. MDT on ION.