These are the winning words from every National Spelling Bee since 1925

The 90th Scripps National Spelling Bee kicked off on Wednesday with nearly 300 young spellers from around the country gunning for a $40,000 top prize.

The field of 291 children will be whittled down to one champion at Thursday’s final in Oxon Hill, Maryland.

Since the inaugural competition in 1925, the words featured in the bee have become increasingly more difficult and obscure, requiring participants to have a commanding knowledge of root words, etymology, and world languages.

Scripps’s list of “winning words” from previous competitions gives a glimpse at this evolution. Relatively simple words such as “knack,” “therapy,” and “initials” dominated earlier installments of the spelling bee, while modern-day champions have had to tackle humdingers like “feuilleton,” “nunatak,” and “gesellschaft.”

The shift in difficulty can be partly attributed to ESPN’s coverage of the bee, which has attracted more students to the competition, Scripps spokeswoman Valerie Miller said. This is the 24th year ESPN will air the spelling bee.

But the biggest reason is simply that the spellers have gotten better.

“Words are more difficult now because the skills of the students also have expanded,” Miller told Business Insider. “These are the best of the best spellers, and the words they get in the national finals should be the greatest challenge.”

Here are some of the championship-clinching words from previous spelling bees:


1925 — gladiolus

The championship word from the inaugural National Spelling Bee in 1925 was “gladiolus,” a flowering plant in the iris family.

Eleven-year-old Frank Neuhauser of Kentucky correctly spelled it to take home the top prize – $500 in gold pieces and a trip to the White House.

When he returned to Louisville, crowds greeted him with a ticker-tape parade and bouquets of aptly chosen gladiolus flowers, according to The Washington Post’s obituary of Neuhauser, who died in 2011.

The New York Times called Neuhauser’s winning word “a cakewalk by modern standards” that “harks back to simpler times.”

In the above photo, sixth-place finisher Patrick Kelly poses with President Calvin Coolidge.


1936 — eczema

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Photo from a 1936 edition of The Daily Illini shows competitors touring Washington DC.
source
Illinois Daily Newspaper Collections

Jean Trowbridge of Iowa correctly spelled “eczema” – a skin condition – to clinch the 1936 spelling bee. She also had to correctly spell “predilection,” which another finalist had missed.

Three decades later, “eczema” would resurface as the winning word at the 1965 bee.


1960 — eudaemonic

Henry Feldman of Tennessee correctly spelled “eudaemonic” to win the 1960 spelling bee. “Eudaemonic” means “producing happiness.”


1967 — chihuahua

Jennifer Reinke of Nebraska clinched the 1967 title by correctly spelling “chihuahua.” The dog breed shares its name with the Mexican state it originates from.


1970 — croissant

Libby Childress of North Carolina aced the word “croissant” to win the 1970 title.


1978 — deification

“Deification” was the winning word at the 1978 spelling bee, correctly spelled by Peg McCarthy of Kansas.

“Deification” is the act of treating someone like a god.


1987 — staphylococci

By the mid-1980s, the words used in the spelling bee finals became dramatically more difficult. Stephanie Petit of Pennsylvania won the 1987 bee by spelling “staphylococci,” the plural form of a type of disease-causing bacteria.


1998 — chiaroscurist

Jody-Anne Maxwell of Jamaica won the 1998 spelling bee, becoming the first non-American champion in the event’s history.

Maxwell clinched the championship by spelling “chiaroscurist,” a painter who uses shadows and exaggerated light contrasts for artistic effect.


2005 — appoggiatura

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Anurag Kashyap of San Diego, California shyly covers his face while being interviewed after winning the 78th Annual Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee in 2005.
source
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

San Diego’s Anurag Kashyap won the 2005 spelling bee by spelling “appoggiatura,” a word for an embellishing musical note.


20011 — cymotrichous

Sukanya Roy of Pennsylvania won the 2011 spelling bee by correctly spelling “cymotrichous,” a way to describe wavy hair.


2015 — scherenschnitte, nunatak

Two spellers were named co-champions in 2015 after the finalists exhausted the entire list of words.

Vanya Shivashankar of Kansas correctly spelled “scherenschnitte” – the art of paper cutting – to earn her share of the title.

Missouri’s Gokul Venkatachalam clinched with an equally obscure word – “nunatak,” a word of Greenlandic origin referring to a hill or mountain completely surrounded by glacial ice.


2016 — Feldenkrais, gesellschaft

Last year’s spelling bee saw another tie after finalists exhausted the entire word list.

The two winning words were “Feldenkrais,” spelled by Jairam Hathwar of New York, and “gesellschaft,” spelled by Nihar Sai Reddy Janga of Texas.

“Feldenkrais” is a type of exercise therapy devised by Israeli engineer Moshe Feldenkrais. “Gesellschaft,” in social theory, is a word for a society in which human relations are impersonal.


And here’s the list of every winning word since 1925:

1925

gladiolus

1926

cerise

1927

luxuriance

1928

albumen

1929

asceticism

1930

fracas

1931

foulard

1932

knack

1933

torsion

1934

deteriorating

1935

intelligible

1936

interning

1937

promiscuous

1938

sanitarium

1939

canonical

1940

therapy

1941

initials

1942

sacrilegious

1946

semaphore

1947

chlorophyll

1948

psychiatry

1949

dulcimer

1950

meticulosity

1951

insouciant

1952

vignette

1953

soubrette

1954

transept

1955

crustaceology

1956

condominium

1957

schappe

1958

syllepsis

1959

catamaran

1960

eudaemonic

1961

smaragdine

1962

esquamulose

1963

equipage

1964

sycophant

1965

eczema

1966

ratoon

1967

Chihuahua

1968

abalone

1969

interlocutory

1970

croissant

1971

shalloon

1972

macerate

1973

vouchsafe

1974

hydrophyte

1975

incisor

1976

narcolepsy

1977

cambist

1978

deification

1979

maculature

1980

elucubrate

1981

sarcophagus

1982

psoriasis

1983

Purim

1984

luge

1985

milieu

1986

odontalgia

1987

staphylococci

1988

elegiacal

1989

spoliator

1990

fibranne

1991

antipyretic

1992

lyceum

1993

kamikaze

1994

antediluvian

1995

xanthosis

1996

vivisepulture

1997

euonym

1998

chiaroscurist

1999

logorrhea

2000

demarche

2001

succedaneum

2002

prospicience

2003

pococurante

2004

autochthonous

2005

appoggiatura

2006

Ursprache

2007

serrefine

2008

guerdon

2009

Laodicean

2010

stromuhr

2011

cymotrichous

2012

guetapens

2013

knaidel

2014

feuilleton, stichomythia

2015

scherenschnitte, nunatak

2016

Feldenkrais, gesellschaft

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