The 26 Toughest Winning Words from the National Spelling Bee
The Scripps National Spelling Bee has been a yearly tradition since the 1920s. How would you fare trying to spell these baffling winning words?
The Bee must go on
For the first time since World War II, the Scripps National Spelling Bee has been canceled. It won’t be held in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning that spelling enthusiasts won’t be able to tune in to the often nail-biting competition. As sad as that is, especially for the eager young participants, we can still take a look back down memory lane at some of the seriously mind-boggling tough words that previous winners spelled right. Get warmed up with these tricky words even English speakers have trouble spelling.
Winning word 1928: albumen
Who won: Betty Robinson, a 13-year-old from Indiana
How to say it: “al-byoo-muh n”
What it means: egg white (as well as a type of protein found in egg whites and milk)
Don’t miss these hilarious and cringe-worthy spelling mistakes you won’t believe were printed.
Winning word 1929: asceticism
Who won: Virginia Hogan, a 12-year-old from Nebraska
How to say it: “uh–set–uh-siz-uh m”
What it means: the practice of avoiding indulgences and temptations, usually for religious reasons
Think you’re smarter than a fifth grader? Try naming these U.S. states without their vowels.
Winning word 1953: soubrette
Who won: Elizabeth Hess, a 13-year-old from Arizona
How to say it: “soo-bret“
What it means: a high female vocal range or an actress in an opera with such a vocal range
Check out these beautiful romantic words from other languages that have no English equivalent—and are definitely prettier than these spelling bee words.
Winning word 1955: crustaceology
Who won: Sandra Sloss, a 13-year-old from Illinois
How to say it: “crus-tay-shee-aw-lo-jee”
What it means: the study of crustaceans such as crabs and shrimp
This is why there’s a difference between “travelled vs traveled.”
Winning word 1969: interlocutory
Who won: Susan Yoachum, a 14-year-old from Texas
How to say it: “in-ter-lok-yuh-tawr-ee”
What it means: given during the course of a legal action
Winning word 1971: shalloon
Who won: Jonathan Knisely, a 12-year-old from New Jersey
How to say it: “sha-loon“
What it means: a type of twilled fabric
Loving these spelling bee words? Here are some English words that don’t mean anything close to what they look like.
Winning word 1972: macerate
Who won: Robin Kral, a 14-year-old from Texas
How to say it: “mas–uh-reyt”
What it means: to soften (usually food) by soaking in liquid
Winning word 1974: hydrophyte
Who won: Julie Ann Junkin, a 12-year-old from Alabama
How to say it: “hahy-druh-fahyt”
What it means: an aquatic plant, one that grows only on or in water
While you’ve probably used some of these spelling bee words incorrectly, these are the 70 words and phrases you’ve definitely been using wrong.
Winning word 1979: maculature
Who won: Katie Kerwin McCrimmon, a 13-year-old from Colorado
How to say it: “mac-yoo-luh-chur”
What it means: in art, a printing impression made to remove excess ink
Winning word 1988: elegiacal
Who won: Rageshree Ramachandran, a 13-year-old from California
How to say it: “el-i-jahy–uh k-uh l”
What it means: sorrowful or lamenting
Winning word 1989: spoliator
Who won: Scott Isaacs, a 14-year-old from Colorado
How to say it: “spoh-lee-eyt-uhr”
What it means: someone who plunders or robs
Check out these hilarious words that sound completely fake (and their meanings).
Winning word 1992: lyceum
Who won: Amanda Goad, a 13-year-old from Virginia
How to say it: “lahy-see–uh m”
What it means: an institution or building that hosts lectures and other educational programs
Winning word 1994: antediluvian
Who won: Ned G. Andrews, a 13-year-old from Tennessee
How to say it: “an-tee-di-loo-vee-uh n”
What it means: taking place before the Great Flood in the Bible; extremely old-fashioned
Speaking of old-fashioned, find out the 10 uncommon English words we should totally bring back.
Winning word 2003: pococurante
Who won: Sai R. Gunturi, a 13-year-old from Texas
How to say it: “poh-koh-koo–ran-tee”
What it means: uncaring, apathetic (as well as a person with those qualities)
Want another challenge? This difficult spelling test from 1974 will drive you crazy.
Winning word 2005: appoggiatura
Who won: Anurag Kashyap, a 13-year-old from California
How to say it: “uh-poj-uh–too r–uh”
What it means: a music note played as an embellishment on the main beat
Yes, these young spelling whizzes are definitely geniuses. Could you be a genius? Take this quiz to find out.
Winning word 2012: guetapens
Who won: Snigdha Nandipati, a 14-year-old from California
How to say it: “get-uh-paw”
What it means: a trap or a snare
This is the real reason some English words have silent letters.
Winning words 2014: feuilleton + stichomythia
Who won: Ansun Sujoe, a 13-year-old from Texas, and Sriram Hathwar, a 14-year-old from New York, tied for first place after exhausting the entire list of words
How to say them: “foi-yuh–tawn” + “stik-uh–mith-ee-uh”
What they mean: a part of a newspaper for fiction, essays, and other lighter reading; a Greek drama technique where two characters speak alternately
Winning words 2015: scherenschnitte + nunatak
Who won: Gokul Venkatachalam, a 14-year-old from Missouri, and Vanya Shivashankar, a 13-year-old from Kansas, tied for first place after exhausting the entire list of words
How to say them: “shay-ren-shnit-tuh” + “nuhn–uh-tak”
What they mean: the artistic technique of cutting paper to form a symmetrical design; a peak of rock above an icy or snowy surface
We know it’s hard to spell these spelling bee words but watch out for these other common spelling mistakes that spell check won’t catch.
Winning words 2016: feldenkrais + gesellschaft
Who won: Nihar Janga, an 11-year-old from Texas, and Jairam Hathwar, a 13-year-old from New York, tied for first place after exhausting the entire list of words
How to say them: “fell-den-krice” + “guh-zell-shawft”
What they mean: a method of exercise therapy that emphasizes connections between the brain and body; social relationships based on duty or obligation, not camaraderie
Check out the other crazy hard words from the last ten National Spelling Bees.
Winning word 2017: marocain
Who won: Ananya Vinay, a 12-year-old from California, became the first solo winner since 2013!
How to say it: “mar–uh-keyn”
What it means: a type of fabric made from silk or wool
Winning word 2018: koinonia
Who won: Karthik Nemmani, a 14-year-old from McKinney, Texas
How to say it: “koy-no-nee-a”
What it means: an intimate religious experience or spiritual connection
The year 2019, crazily enough, didn’t really have a winning word in its history-making competition. A full eight students were declared co-winners after completely running out the list of challenging spelling bee words, without a single mistake. As disappointing as the 2020 cancellation is, you’ve gotta admit that 2019 would have been hard to follow up!
Can you spell the most misspelled words in every U.S. state? (Hint: you’ll probably find these a lot easier than these spelling bee words!)