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Talking it over -- 1-27-11

I enjoy attending the annual Spelling Bee when it is held at the school. It is fun to watch the young boys and girls spell those challenging words and realize how much they have learned in their short lives.

Spelling Bees in my youth were different. We actually had a spell-off or bee in our own classroom and after winning that you went on to compete with other class winners within the school. The school winner would then compete at a county bee. I recall my cousin going on to the county level and it was very exciting for her and the family.

It is interesting to look at the history of Spelling Bees. The earliest evidence of the phrase spelling bee in print dates back to 1825, although the contests had apparently been held before that year. A key incentive for the contests was Noah Webster's spelling books. First published in 1786 and known colloquially as "The Blue-backed Speller," Webster's spelling books were an essential part of the curriculum of all elementary school children in the United States for five generations. Now the key base for the contests is the Merriam Webster dictionary.

Eventually Spelling Bees came to be a social event for students and parents and were very well attended. Spelling Bees of today are not quite the 'social' event of the year but are still popular and well attended. I find that many of the words are becoming more difficult and in fact, some are even unfamiliar. Some of the winning words over the years include: 1925 - gladiolus; 1932 - knack; 1958 - condominium; 1970 - croissant; 1984 - luge; 2000 - demarche and 2010 - stromuhr (spell check didn't even know this word).

Similarly there are some words that rarely get used today. Words such as typewriter, encyclopedia and buckboard. Things that are slowly creeping back in history and not needed in modern language.

Some of the words included in Spelling Bees today probably didn't even exist ninety years ago. It makes you wonder what letters will be put together to form words in the future and likewise what words will no longer exist because of lack of use or need.