The National Spelling Bee was held in the US last week, and in a change that has shaken up the sport, contest hopefuls had to know definitions as well as spellings.

Why is English so difficult that simply spelling its words is a challenge? And can you be an orthographic prodigy?

Linguist Daniel Midgley spells it out on this episode of Talk the Talk.


Listen to this episode

Or subscribe via iTunes
Click here for more options: How to listen to Talk the Talk


I’ve never told this to anyone, but at one point in my young life when I fancied myself a bit of a speller, I had this fantasy of competing in the National Spelling Bee in Washington DC. Maybe my imagination was fueled by that Charlie Brown special.

Anyway, the Bee never happened for me — lack of corporate sponsorship — but I was able to parley my interest in language into a podcast and an empire, so it wasn’t a total loss. And anyway, I think my chances would have been miniscule against these kids.

I don’t do much spelling in this episode, but I do get to torment Ben, which is lots of fun. And here’s a test for you: Can you spot the three mispellings I’ve made in this post?


Show notes

About the Bee
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/may/30/scripps-spelling-bee-vocabulary-tests

Arvind Mahankali won it all this year
http://espn.go.com/espn/story/_/id/9327203/arvind-mahankali-wins-scripps-national-spelling-bee

The winning word was ‘knaidel’
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/31/nyregion/queens-boy-13-wins-scripps-spelling-bee-with-knaidel.html?_r=0

Watch the win
http://www.usatoday.com/videos/news/nation/2013/05/31/2374867/

Spelling bee champion goes NUTS after winning (GIF)
http://imgur.com/gallery/vIf0lAD

How would you do in the National Spelling Bee? Take the challenge!
http://www.spellingbee.com/sample-test

Why is it a ‘bee’?
http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=bee

Bone up with this word list, complied from previous years
http://www.project-read.com/give-2/spelling-bee/consolidated-word-lists/

Or take it slow by starting with the top 100 misspelled words
http://grammar.yourdictionary.com/spelling-and-word-lists/misspelled.html

Tricky spellings that trip people up
http://newsfeed.time.com/2013/05/29/six-things-you-probably-didnt-know-about-the-scripps-national-spelling-bee/

This year, definitions were a part of the contest.
http://au.news.yahoo.com/thewest/entertainment/a/-/entertainment/17382608/u-s-spelling-bee-starts-with-a-new-challenge-definitions/

Not everyone is happy about this.
http://www.slate.com/articles/life/the_good_word/2013/04/national_spelling_bee_definitions_it_s_indefensible_to_force_top_spellers.html

AMAZING video about the Great English Vowel Shift
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zyhZ8NQOZeo

or just read the Wikipedia page, which is very good too.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Vowel_Shift


Show tunes

‘Bees’ by Caribou
from the album The Milk of Human Kindness

‘A Minha Menina’ by the Bees
from the album Sunshine Hit Me