Any idea what cymotrichous means? How about guetapens? In truth, I was clueless and had to look them up. Found out that the adjective cymotrichous is related to wavy hair and was the winning word for Sukanya Roy at the 2011 Scripps National Spelling Bee. As for guetapens, it’s a noun meaning ambush or trap and was the reason Snigdha Nandipati made it into the winner’s circle last year.
Meanwhile, things got rolling at this year’s contest at 8:06 p.m. on May 30 when 14-year-old Grace Remmer stepped up to the microphone and, with little hesitation, correctly spelled greffier, a synonym for registrar or notary. Seated behind her were the ten other students who’d also successfully spelled their way into the finals, beating out more than 11 million kids along the way.
One of those was Montgomery County’s own Ashraya Ananthanarayan, a seventh grader at Spring-Ford Intermediate School. This Times Herald champ’s hopes ended, however, at the semi-finals where she competed against the remaining 280 other hopefuls.
That number was eventually reduced to those eleven finalists on the stage of the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center last Thursday night. As each took turns stepping up to the microphone, spelling was quickly transformed into a nail biting contest rivaling the tensest of sports matchups. In the end, though, it came down to two thirteen-year-olds: Pranav Sivakumar and Arvind Mahankali.
Arvind nailed crapaud before Pranav correctly spelled haupia. Arvind then came back with kaumographer, but then Pranav misspelled cyanophycean . . .
As the sole survivor, Arvind had to then correctly spell two words in a row—and while everyone held their breaths, he did just that, first tackling tokonoma and then knaidel. And with that, this two-time third-place finisher was named the 2013 national spelling bee champion.
For his years of hard work, along with the engraved Scripps National Spelling Bee trophy, Arvind received:
- A $30,000 cash prize from Scripps
- A $2,500 U.S. Savings bond and a complete reference library
- $2,000 worth of reference works, including a 3-year membership to Britannica Online.
Next up on this remarkable young man’s agenda: spending the summer studying physics . . .
Now, of course, not every kid grows into a whiz like Arvind, but these tips can go a long way toward helping your child be a better speller and learner. For starters, push for spelling tests at your child’s elementary school, bucking the national trend of eliminating them altogether, and then:
- Gather the family and watch the 2002 documentary Spellbound one evening; put Akeelah and the Bee on your to-watch list, too.
- Make reading priority #1.
- Secure a library card for your child and make frequent trips borrowing books.
- Consider having experts choose a gift book for your child every month by going to a site like Gift Lit.
- Make books a regular on your gift list
- Have your child start a personal dictionary—one letter per page—for recording frequently misspelled words.
- Hold Friday night spelling bees.
- Using a dictionary, have your child test you from time-to-time—and require not just spellings but definitions, too.
- Play such word-filled games as Scrabble, Spell It!, and Boggle.
- Encourage online spelling games.
- To catch misspellings on assignments, have your child read the piece backward, from last word to first, correcting along the way or circling those s/he’s unsure of for looking up when done.
- Invest in How to Spell It, by Harriet Wittels, offering up frequently misspelled words accompanied by their correct spelling, as in numonia/pneumonia.
And for the curious-minded among you, here are the definitions of those 2013 spelling bee words previously mentioned:
- crapaud: a toad; a flaw as in a gem
- haupia: a coconut milk-based dessert
- kaumographer: a worker who transfers designs and the like on cloth with a hot iron
- cyanophycean: pertains to a class of blue-green algae
- tokonama: an alcove typically found in a Japanese home
- knaidel: a small ball of unleavened dough—a dumpling
Meanwhile, a bit of a controversy is brewing around that final winning word. Linguists at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research prefer its historical spelling of kneydl, but not Merriam-Webster which is sticking with the more common knaidel. Stay tuned.