What Does the “Bee” in “Spelling Bee” Mean Exactly

spellingbeeAs spellers from across the country and around the globe gather to take part in the annual Scripps National Spelling Bee, let’s try to settle a basic question: Where does the bee in “spelling bee” come from?

Bee is derived from the Old English bēn meaning “a prayer, a favor.” By the late eighteenth century, bee had become commonly associated with the British dialect form, been or bean, referring to the joining of neighbors to work on a single activity to help a neighbor in need: sewing bee, quilting bee, etc. This derivation counters a long held belief that bee refers to the buzzing insect and the social nature of a beehive. The earliest printed reference to spelling bee dates back to 1825. However, children had been engaged in competitive wordplay for years beforehand. Frank Neuhauser won the very first Scripps National Spelling Bee in 1925 by correctly spelling gladiolus.

glad·i·o·lus – [glad-ee-oh-luh s] – /ˌglæd iˈoʊ ləs/ – Noun
Plural glad·i·o·lus, glad·i·o·li
[glad-ee-oh-lahy] (Show IPA), glad·i·o·lus·es for 1; glad·i·o·li for 2. – /ˌglæd iˈoʊ laɪ/ (Show Spelled), glad·i·o·lus·es for 1; glad·i·o·li for 2.
1. Any plant of the genus Gladiolus, of the iris family, native especially to Africa, having erect, sword-shaped leaves and spikes of flowers in a variety of colors.
2. Anatomy. the middle and largest segment of the sternum.
Compare manubrium (def 2a), xiphisternum.

Some other former championship words include:

Antediluvian :

an·te·di·lu·vi·an – [an-tee-di-loo-vee-uh n] – /ˌæn ti dɪˈlu vi ən/ – Adjective

  1. Of or belonging to the period before the Flood. Gen. 7, 8.
  2. Very old, old-fashioned, or out of date; antiquated; primitive: antediluvian ideas.

Noun

  1. A person who lived before the Flood.
  2. A very old or old-fashioned person or thing.

Chiaroscurist: N/A

Soubrette:

sou·brette – [soo-bret] – /suˈbrɛt/ – Noun

  1. A maidservant or lady’s maid in a play, opera, or the like, especially one displaying coquetry, pertness, and a tendency to engage in intrigue.
  2. An actress playing such a role.
  3. Any lively or pert young woman.

Psoriasis:

pso·ri·a·sis – [suh-rahy-uh-sis] – /səˈraɪ ə sɪs/ – Noun, Pathology.

  1. A common chronic, inflammatory skin disease characterized by scaly patches.

Maculature: N/A

Crustaceology: N/A

Smaragdine:

sma·rag·dine – [smuh-rag-din] – /sməˈræg dɪn/ – Adjective

  1. Of or relating to emeralds.
  2. Emerald-green in color.

Noun:

  1. Rare. smaragd.

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