The Top Winning Words; A Century of Spelling Bees

Janice Tovey
2 min readDec 28, 2021

Past to present

A trophy showing the winner of a contest. The winner of a spelling bee.
Photo by Giorgio Trovato on Unsplash

Spellers have gotten better and words have gotten more difficult. The skills of modern day students have expanded. The contestants in competitions today are the “best of the best.” The words that they are asked to spell in The National Finals are very challenging to say the least!

This list demonstrates an overview of the increasing complexity of words throughout the decades:

1925 — gladiolus: a flowering plant in the iris family

1936 — eczema: a skin condition

1960 — eudaemonic: producing happiness

1967 — Chihuahua: a dog originating from the State of Mexico

1970 — croissant: a fancy bread

1978 — deification: the act of treating someone like a God

1987 — staphylococci: the plural form of a type of disease that causes bacteria

1998 — chiaroscurist: a painter who uses exaggerated light contrasts and shadows for artistic effect

2005 — appoggiatura: this is a word for an embellishing musical note

2011 — cymotrichous: this is a way to describe wavy hair

2015 — scherenschnitte; nunatak: this is the art of paper cutting

2016 — Feldenkrais; gesellschaft: a type of exercise therapy

2019 — auslaut; erysipelas; bougainvillea; aiguillette; pendeloque; palama; cernuous; odylic (ended in a tie between 8 participants)

If you are interested, the following is a complete list of all of the National Spelling Bee words annually from 1925 until the present: gladiolus, cerise, luxuriance, albumen, asceticism, fracas, foulard, knack, torsion, deterioration, intelligible, interning, promiscuous, sanitarium, canonical, therapy, initials, sacrilegious, semaphore, chlorophyll, psychiatry, dulcimer, meticulosity, insouciant, vignette, soubrette, transept, crustaceology, condominium, schappe, syllepsis, catamaran, eudaemonic, smaragdine, esquamulose, equipage, sycophant, eczema, ratoon, Chihuahua, abalone, interlocutory, croissant, shalloon, macerate, vouchsafe, hydrophyte, incisor, narcolepsy, cambist, deification, maculature, elucubrate, sacrophagus, psoriasis, Purim, luge, milieu, odontalgia, staphylococci, elegiacal, spoliator, fibranne, antipyretic, lyceum, kamikaze, antediluvian, xanthosis, vivisepulture, euonym, chiaroscurist, logorrhea, demarche, succedaneum, prospicience, pococurante, autochthonous, appoggiatura, Ursprache, serrefine, guerdon, Laodicean, stromuhr, cymotrichous, guetapens, knaidel, feuilleton; stichomyathia, scherenschnitte; nunatak, Feldenkrais, gesellschaft, marocain, koinonia, (auslaut;erysipelas; bougainvillea; aiguillette; pendeloque; palama; cernuous; odylic).

To be honest, I have never heard of most of these words; let alone be able to spell them.

What about you?

Janice Tovey

My passion is writing. I also love reading, teaching, animals, nature, music, and humor. I am curious about everything and enjoy writing about all things.