May 30, 2014

Watching Sriram Hathwar of New York and Ansun Sujoe from Texas duke it out in the National Spelling Bee championship last night made me think: I call myself a writer but I’m unworthy.

On their way to a confetti storm, the two spelled almost impossibly complex words, including “terreplein” (the level space behind the parapet of a rampart), “encaenia” (an annual university ceremony), “stichomythia” (dramatic dialogue, usually used for altercations) and “feuilleton” (a part of a European newspaper or magazine). With those two last words, Sriram and Ansun sealed a double win for themselves.

“The competition was against the dictionary, not against each other,” Sriram said after the two were declared champions — practiced, perhaps, but still a good quote.

For anyone enamored of words, the Scripps National Spelling Bee is the equivalent of the NBA playoffs. You clear your calendar, turn off the cell phone and enjoy with “wows” and “awwws” each correct or botched spelling.

It’s nerdy and satisfying.

This year 281 spellers competed, an 8-year-old the youngest. Newspapers, universities, Rotary Clubs and a host of community organizations from across the country sponsor the spellers. It’s a long-standing tradition. In 1925, a group of newspapers collaborated on the first bee, then Scripps took over sponsorship of the competition in 1941.

Scrub through to today and it’s a whole new bee with Twitter traffic that feature “spellfies:”

The two winnners are Indian-American, upholding the dynasty of spelling champions from that community. Predictably, this has drawn racial and racist comments, as The Times of India reports.

Not that one should have to explain, but there is a reason why so many spellers are of Indian descent, as Slate describes. Like everything else, winning takes organization, commitment and work.

Here are the latest winners and the bee’s final moments as posted by CBS. They indeed make us proud:

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