Spelling as Sport!

One of the peculiarities of spelling words in English is that, many times, there's no direct correlation between an individual letter - the letter "A", say - and the sound it represents. There are a lot of historical reasons for this (most of them too complicated to talk about here), but it has created a uniquely American pastime: the spelling bee.

A spelling bee is a competition, usually for children, where a group of kids are given words to spell. The children start out with easy words, but as the competition progresses, the words become more difficult, and each time a student spells a word incorrectly, he or she is eliminated. The winner is the person who, basically, can spell more words than any other competitor.

In the United States, the biggest and most famous spelling bee is the Scripps National Spelling Bee (http://www.spellingbee.com/), sponsored by the Scripps News Service. Each winner is sponsored by a Scripps newspaper, and this year's winner was Anamika Veeramani, from Ohio, who had to spell stromuhr to win. (A stromuhr is a kind of meter that measures how quickly blood goes through a vein.)

Want to try the test for yourself, to see if your spelling would be good enough to qualify? Click on this link: http://public.spellingbee.com/public/test/publicsample/?page=word.

If you think that only native English speakers would do well at this, think again: 21 of the 273 competitors in the 2010 competition do not speak English as their first language.

(Why "bee", you ask? In addition to the typical definition that everyone knows - a fat insect that makes honey and stings people - "bee" can also mean a social gathering where people combine work, competition, and amusement. No one's exactly sure where the word comes from, but it may come from Old English ben, "prayer".)

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