Spelling bees are fascinating and puzzling. The former because it is a pleasure to see young children being successfully tutored to a point that they are able to spell the most esoteric words which most people have never heard before and certainly few would use in either oral or written communication. It is the limited value in learning these rarely used words that makes the whole competition puzzling – these kids, their parents and tutors must spend endless hours and perhaps money trying to master these words. It reminds me of the old joke by Billy Connolly: “I don’t know why I should have to learn Algebra… I’m never likely to go there.” But Algebra will be more likely to be useful than most of these rarely used words. But, nonetheless, spelling bees are fun and one cannot but help admire the dedication of these kids in getting to a point where they compete in a national competition like the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

Spelling bees are thought to have originated in the US though today these competions are held in various countries including the UK, Australia, Mexico, India, Canada and other countries. The first winner of an official spelling bee occurred in 1925 when Frank Neuhauser, then 11 years old, won the 1st National Spelling Bee, in Washington DC. The 9 finalists were invited to meet Calvin Coolidge at the White House, a tradition followed by presidents for most of the ensuing years of the contest.

In recent years, the national spelling bee held in the US has included contestants from other countries including Canada, the Caribbean and New Zealand.

For some reason I am not able to fathom Indian-American (South Asian) children have won the championship in seven of the last twelve years. This is all the more remarkable when one considers that South Asians represent less than 5% if the US population.

Although these spelling bees are pretty serious events with a lot of tension especially for the contestants they occasionally result in some quite humorous and unusual situations.

For example, here 2008 Scripps’ National Spelling Bee champion Sameer Mishra initially misheard the word and thought it was a word that suggested a less than edifying meaning! His relief when he realized what the word really was is apparent and hilarious.


In this next clip, Kennyi Aouad is given a word he has obviously never heard before and cannot control his amusement at the very word!


Andrew Lay of North Carolina is asked to spell a word that sounds like “niggas” – a word that is definitely not politically correct to say especially on a nationally televised forum. He asks for the meaning of the word and that does not help – in fact, it seems to confirm his fear that the word is just what he does not want to say. He finally spells it like it is pronounced and to his amazement and relief it turns out that he got it correct.

In the 2005 Scripps’ National Spelling Bee, Katie Seymour whether deliberately or not caused a great deal of laughter when she sought additional guidance that would rather defeat the point of a spelling bee!


For a change of pace how about Rebecca Sealfon who won the 1997 Scripps National Spelling Bee when she was given the word “Euonym.” She screams the spelling with a sense of triumph as she realizes that she knows the spelling of a word that will ensure that she wins the national spelling bee!


Then we have situations like this one where one cannot help but feel sorry for Kiran Chethry interviewing Evan O’Dorney who won the 2007 Scripps’ National Spelling Bee and turned out to be less than easy to interview.

Finally, during the 2004 Scripps National Spelling Bee, Akshay Buddiga calmly listened as the announcer asked him to spell the word “alopecoid,” then calmly passed out, calmly got back up, spelled the word, and returned to his seat. He went on to finish second in the competition! His sibling won the competition in a previous year.

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2 Responses to “Funny – and not so funny moments – during spelling bees”

  1. Saira says:

    I love this blog entry — mainly because I wish I had competed in the National Spelling Bee. I remember several of these winners/constestants…

  2. Anonymous says:

    I did too, find it extremely entertaining! The anti-interviewee and the guy who could not stop himself from laughing were a trip!

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