We all know well that spelling bee is a competition, in which the participants are asked to spell words, mostly with a fluctuating grade of difficulty. However, if you ask someone exactly what does ‘bee’ in ‘spelling bee’ means, they will probably be clueless. In fact, it would not have be surprising if Frank Neuhauser, the first official spelling bee champ would have also failed to answer this universal language puzzle.
Actually the word ‘bee’ originates from a term in Old English, bēn, which means prayer or favour. However, during the late 18th century, this word was frequently associated with ‘been’ in the British dialect. It started to signify a group of neighbours, who were working together in a cluster on a single activity to help another resident in need. Soon, words like apple bee, logging bee, quilting bee and sewing bee came into existence. This origin of the word contradicts the prevalent belief that spelling bee is in any way associated with the buzzing honeybee. However, some etymologists still believe that maybe this word holds its relevance in the active social behaviour of a beehive.
Though children have engaged in similar wordplays from centuries, but the earliest mention of spelling bee can only be traced back to 1825. The concept of spelling bee originated in the United States, where the first ever national spelling completion was held in 1925. It was started by a local Kentucky newspaper, The Courier-Journal. Soon the sponsorship was acquired by Scripps Howard News Service and the name of the event was changed to Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee.
Nowadays, with the increasing popularity of spelling bee competitions, several ready preparatory materials are available in the market. The Consolidated Word List, published by Scripps, consists of all the words used since 1950 in the National Bee competitions. This list is 800 pages long and comprise of whooping 24,000 words, segregated into three sections – Words Appearing Infrequently, Words Appearing with Moderate Frequency, and Word Appearing Frequently.
So, go ahead, make spellings fun and visit the national spelling bee site to take the test and see if you have it in you!