Saturday, November 20, 2010

Spelling Bee tonight!

We'll see you tonight at Joe Van Gogh DurhamSign-up at 6:00 p.m. Spelling begins at 6:30 p.m. The first 25 spellers get a spot.  Every speller gets a prize!  Everyone else achieves total enlightenment.

Thursday, November 18, 2010


The kind folks at Joe Van Gogh are providing the big prizes for the Bee!
1st place wins a 10-cup Melitta Pourover pot, #6 filters, bag of coffee, and a travel mug

2nd place wins a bag of coffee and travel mug
There will also be consolations for everyone because, let's face it, everyone's a loser except the last person standing!  Not the best motto for the Durham Spelling Bee? Come with your suggestions on Saturday night.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Durham's Spelling Bee for Grown-Ups this Saturday!

Come on out to the Durham Spelling Bee on Saturday, November 20th at Joe Van Gogh.  Cheer for your favorite spellers and give it a try, yourself.  Support local Durham.  Achieve enlightenment.  Become happy forever.

     Sign up at 6:00 p.m.
     Spelling begins at 6:30 p.m.

There is a limit of 25 spellers, so come out and sign up early.  There will be prizes!

View Larger Map

Friday, November 12, 2010

Want to be in a documentary? Filming the Spelling Bee

Hi all,

A Duke student contacted me about filming the Durham Spelling Bee for a documentary film class.  He would like to get some interviews with participants before the bee.  Would you like to be interviewed before the upcoming Nov. 20 Bee? 

Kyle Kunkle will be filming the Bee at Joe Van Gogh on the 20th.  He is interested in talking to you beforehand about how you are preparing (or not) for the spelling bee and why you are participating or what you like about it.  If you have not participated before, but are planning on it for November 20, he would still be interested in hearing from you.  If you'd like to help him out, please contact Kyle at:

Feel free to drop me a line, too.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Words that should be banished from the English Language

I was thinking about the word webinar today and what an ugly word it is.  According to the Oxford English Dictionary, it was first used in 1997 in a publication called DM News (it turns out that DM stands for Direct Marketing, which further solidifies and justifies my hatred of the word).  This web + seminar construction gives rise to other equally ugly words like webisode and vlog.

I like new words that are useful, but constructions like this one seem a bit too twee for my taste.  Webinar...  it is one of those words that will seem exceedingly quaint in about 10 years.  Luckily, the Durham Spelling Bee uses the Webster's Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged, as its source, where these words do not appear.  So, you will never encounter them at the bee.  You're welcome.

Are there any words you think should be banished? Leave a comment.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Durham Spelling Bee November 20!

Nothing says mid-autumn pre-Thanksgiving amusement like the Durham Spelling Bee.  And you're in luck because the next one is coming up on Saturday, November 20th at the lovely Joe Van Gogh coffee house, 1104B Broad Street, in Durham (map).

     Sign up at 6:00 p.m.
     Spelling begins at 6:30 p.m.

You have two and a half weeks to bone up (or not).  Want some pointers?  We have lots of word lists.

There is a limit of 25 spellers (unlimited friends and enthusiasts) so you'll want to arrive early enough to sign up, mingle, and enjoy the best espresso drinks in North Carolina.  Bring a friend and cheer each other on.  Oh, and there will be prizes!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Winner of the April 24th Durham Spelling Bee!

Hello spellers,

I have been remiss in my reporting duties.  It is one of those cases in which a person gets busy, a certain amount of time passes, and then the person gets kind of embarrassed by how far behind he got on his reporting duties.  I am happy to report that the person is well beyond the embarrassment stage, past the ashamed stage, and resting comfortably in the "just post something" stage, so the person can update now.

The winner of our April 24th Durham Spelling Bee is Jen Poole!  Jen stayed in for 10 rounds, spelling every word given to her seemingly effortlessly.  Jen made a last-minute decision to join the roster of spellers, and look what happened!  This proves something...  something about snap decisions changing the course of history. 
Yes, the world is a better place because each of the thirteen spellers decided to spell and have fun.  You don't even want to think about what the world would be like now had they not made their decisions.  Keep this important lesson in mind.

I don't have the list in front of me at the moment so I will have to come back later to tell you the winning word.  Joe Nofziger is our 2nd place winner for the 2nd time in a row.  Will he be a contender in our next Bee?   Will you?  Let's find out!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Spelling bee tonight

The Durham Spelling Bee is tonight, Saturday, April 24th at Joe Van Gogh.  Spellers from 15 to 115 are welcome to compete.  Support local Durham.  Cheer for your favorite spellers!

     Sign up at 6:00 p.m.
     Spelling begins at 6:30 p.m.

There is a limit of 25 spellers, so sign up early if you want a spot.  There will be prizes!

View Larger Map

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Bonus for Durham Spelling Bee blog readers

Faithful readers get a tiny bonus just for reading.  One of the following words will be included in the pool of words we will use at the third Durham Spelling Bee this Saturday night:
And there you have it.  Cheers.

Monday, April 19, 2010

So you think you can spell?

The kind folks over at SO YOU THINK YOU CAN SPELL? have written a nice blog post about us.  It's an honor to be included in the same sphere as the Williamsburg Spelling Bee, the AARP National Spelling Bee, and the Scripps National Spelling Bee (the big kahuna).

Their book is So You Think You Can Spell?: Killer Quizzes for the Incurably Competitive and Overly Confident.  The subtitle says it all. 

I have worked my way through about half of the book, and I can say it is simultaneously fun and humbling.  For example, pick the correct spelling: herculian/herculeian/herculaean/herculaean/herculean.  How about bonnehommie/bonhommie/bonhomie/bonnehomie?  Back in October, I wrote a one-line review of it elsewhere: "You think you know... but you don't know."  Don't let that discourage you; think of it as a brain-tickler.  The authors, David Grambs and Ellen Levine, have included plenty of variety in the quizzes and games, and the book is interspersed with interesting facts about words, lexicography, and language.  There is also a brief history of the spelling bee in America (and remember: you can be a part of that history this coming Saturday night!).

Saturday, April 17, 2010

One week until the next bee

Come on out to the next Durham Spelling Bee on Saturday, April 24th at Joe Van Gogh.  Spellers from 15 to 115 are welcome to compete.  Spectators of all ages are welcome, too.  Cheer for your favorite spellers.  Support local Durham.  Maybe become famous on the Internet!

     Sign up at 6:00 p.m.
     Spelling begins at 6:30 p.m.

There is a limit of 25 spellers, so sign up early if you want a spot.  There will be prizes!

View Larger Map

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Another gem from Quite Interesting, this time about lost languages:
There are about 6,900 languages being spoken in the world today. Unesco estimates that half of these will have disappeared by the end of the century as the languages of world commerce – English, Chinese and Spanish – spread. 
 And my favorite bit:
The last speakers of Zoque, a language from Tabasco, Mexico, are two elderly men who refuse to speak to one another. Relatives claim their mutual silence isn't motivated by personal animosity but by the fact that they have little in common.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Next Durham Spelling Bee coming up!

The Durham Spelling Bee is coming up on Saturday, April 24th at Joe Van Gogh.  It's a game of zest and test!* 

     Sign up at 6:00 p.m.
     Spelling begins at 6:30 p.m.

You have more than two weeks to hone your spelling skills.  If you'd like some pointers, scroll through this here blog; you'll find lots of spelling lists to choose from.

We are limited to 25 spellers, so you'll want to arrive early enough to sign up, mingle, and enjoy a beverage.  Everyone likes rooters, too.

*From Paul Wing's Spelling Bee (Thanks, Jen!)

Sunday, April 4, 2010

More from the March 13th Bee

My apologies for the delay in posting. Here is our winner, Colie Hoffman!

Colie's winning word was "schism."  Colie and Joe Nofziger used up all the really difficult words (e.g. zugzwang, bouquiniste, lagniappe, estaminet, vichyssoise), so we had to revert to the merely difficult (e.g. muumuu, exchequer, mulct, troglodytic, asceticism).  Several of the contestants went many rounds this time.  Yippee!

Monday, March 15, 2010

2nd Bee results! DSB in the news.

Congratulations to Colie Hoffman, winner of the 2nd Durham Spelling Bee!

What a great time we all had!  While there were fewer in attendance this time (I neglected to account for Spring break and some kind of basketball tournament thingy), there were more
far more words than before.  The Bee went 26 rounds, the final 16 of which added up to a head-to-head suspense-fest between Colie and Joe Nofziger, our 2nd place winner.  There was a wonderful spirit of camaraderie in the air.

The event was covered by a reporter and a photographer from The Herald-Sun.  They did a fine job of summing up the competition.  Check out the story and photos.  Thanks to Joe Van Gogh for providing prizes and for being such a delightful place to have fun and meet new friends.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Tonight's the night


I'll see you all tonight.  Have fun.  Good luck!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Durham Spelling Bee next Saturday!

The second Durham Spelling Bee is next week on Saturday, March 13. Sign-in at 6:00 p.m.   Spelling begins at 6:30 p.m.

Something new: there will be a limit of 30 spellers, so please get there early enough to sign up, mingle, and enjoy a beverage.

The Bee will be at the excellent Joe Van Gogh, 1104B Broad Street.  They have great beans.  And they are providing great coffee prizes!

View Larger Map

I look forward to seeing you there!

Scripps regional qualifier results

The regional qualifier for the Scripps National Spelling Bee was exciting!  Congratulations to Jessia Connelly, who will go on to represent the Durham/Orange County region at the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington DC.  Congratulations, also, to Amber McDonald for winning 2nd place.  All the spellers were very impressive.  What a great bunch of kids!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

It's National Grammar Day!

Celebrate National Grammar Day by reading "5 Easy Ways to Learn Grammar With The New York Times," and by visiting the Huffington Post's piece, "National Grammar Day 2010: Resources And The WORST Grammar Mistakes Ever."

(Is that sentence grammatically correct?)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Duke hosts regional qualifier for the Scripps National Spelling Bee

This weekend, Duke University will host the regional qualifier for the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

WhatRegional Spelling Bee
Mar 06, 2010
9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.
WhereDuke University - Page Auditorium

Winning spellers from schools in Durham and Orange counties will compete for a spot in the National Spelling Bee in Washington, DC, June 2-4, 2010.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Quite Interesting Facts About Words

The BBC broadcasts a television series called Quite Interesting - devoted to the attitudes of "curiosity, discovery and humour."  It is hosted by the wonderful Stephen Fry.  QI also has a regular column in the weekend Telegraph.  In a recent article, some quite interesting facts about words are compiled, including this bit about word frequency:
Of the quarter of a million words in the OED [Oxford English Dictionary], about half are nouns, 25 per cent adjectives, 15 per cent verbs and the last 10 per cent are prepositions, conjunctions, suffixes etcetera. It is this last category that yields most of the top 10 most frequently used English words, according to a 2006 survey carried out by the Oxford English Corpus. They are: the, be, to, of, and, a, in, that, have and I. The 10 most popular nouns were: time, person, year, way, day, thing, man, world, life and hand. The 10 most popular verbs were: be, have, do, eat, sleep, drink, put, keep, run and walk. The 10 most popular adjectives: good, first, new, last, long, great, little, own, other and old.
I am kind of surprised about hand and run and walk.  Considering the source is the Oxford English Corpus -- which comes from literary textual sources, not the spoken word -- I suppose it does make sense.

P.S.  While I am loathe to cite a Wikipedia article about anything, there is an interesting entry for Stephen Fry (at least as of  25 February 2010 at 10:04 p.m. EST).

Monday, February 15, 2010

Word of the moment

The word of the moment is salmagundi
Pronunciation: sal-mə-ˈgən-dē
1. a salad plate of chopped meats, anchovies, eggs, and vegetables arranged in rows for contrast and dressed with a salad dressing
2. a heterogeneous mixture. potpourri 
Sounds vaguely Anglo-Indian , doesn't it?  But it's not; it is French in origin (salmigondis).  Speaking of Anglo-Indian, that reminds me of one of my favorite dictionary titles:

Hobson-Jobson: A glossary of colloquial Anglo-Indian words and phrases, and of kindred terms, etymological, historical, geographical and discursive, by Sir Henry Yule.  It was published in 1903 (and is quite politically incorrect).  As it is out of copyright, there are free versions, both full-text and as a searchable database.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

One month until the next DSB!

The second Durham Spelling Bee will be held on Saturday, March 13, 2010. Sign-in at 6:00 p.m. Spelling starts at 6:30 p.m. 

As usual the Bee will be at everyone's favorite coffee house, Joe Van Gogh, 1104B Broad Street.  Get yourself some beans!

And remember: there will be prizes!

View Larger Map

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Tattoo spelling mistakes

Enjoy this gallery of the Worst Spelling Mistakes Made in Tattoos.

Thanks to Jen Dziura for the pointer.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Word of the moment

The word of the moment is crapulous.

Pronunciation: KRA-pyə-ləs
Etymology: Late Latin crapulosus, from Latin crapula intoxication, from Greek kraipalē
Date: 1536

1 : marked by intemperance especially in eating or drinking
2 : sick from excessive indulgence in liquor

Example: "Rush Limbaugh is known for being a crapulous debauchee."

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Commonly misspelled words

accommodate, minuscule, occasionally, millennium...

There are lots of these kinds of lists out there. Here is one from

100 Most Often Mispelled Misspelled Words in English

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Winning words at the National Spelling Bee

Here are the winning words in each of the years from 1925 to 2009 at the National Spelling Bee.  Don't be intimidated; we start out with much easier and happier words at the Durham Spelling Bee.

1925 gladiolus
1926 abrogate
1927 luxuriance
1928 albumen
1929 asceticism
1930 fracas
1931 foulard
1932 knack
1933 propitiatory
1934 deteriorating
1935 intelligible
1936 interning
1937 promiscuous
1938 sanitarium
1939 canonical
1940 therapy
1941 initials
1942 sacrilegious
1943 NO BEE
1944 NO BEE
1945 NO BEE
1946 semaphore
1947 chlorophyll
1948 psychiatry
1949 dulcimer
1950 haruspex
1951 insouciant
1952 vignette
1953 soubrette
1954 transept
1955 custaceology
1956 condominium
1957 schappe
1958 syllepsis
1959 cacolet
1960 troche
1961 smaragdine
1962 esquamulose
1963 equipage
1964 sycophant
1965 eczema
1966 ratoon
1967 chihuahua
1968 abalone
1969 interlocutory
1970 croissant
1971 shalloon
1972 macerate
1973 vouchsafe
1974 hydrophyte
1975 incisor
1976 narcolepsy
1977 cambist
1978 deification
1979 maculature
1980 elucubrate
1981 sarcophagus
1982 psoriasis
1983 Purim
1984 luge
1985 milieu
1986 odontalgia
1987 staphylococci
1988 elegiacal
1989 spoliator
1990 fibranne
1991 antipyretic
1992 lyceum
1993 kamikaze
1994 antediluvian
1995 xanthosis
1996 vivisepulture
1997 euonym
1998 chiaroscurist
1999 logorrhea
2000 démarche
2001 succedaneum
2002 prospicience
2003 pococurante
2004 autochthonous
2005 appoggiatura
2006 ursprache
2007 serrefine
2008 guerdon
2009 Laodicean

Monday, February 1, 2010

Spelling Bee Brouhaha

There's nothing worse than a sore loser... except maybe a litigious sore-loser Dad.

In a recent local Los Altos School Spelling Bee in California, a mistake was rightfully settled, declaring that two spellers should go on to the regional spelling bee.  This is all good.  Then, when a third boy's sore-loser dad decided he didn't like the outcome of the regional bee, he filed a $2-million lawsuit against the local sponsor.  Fortunately, the court told the dad to get over it.  You can read the brief story here:

SerVaas, Joan. Spelling Bee Brouhaha. Saturday Evening Post, Jan/Feb2010, Vol. 282 Issue 1, p61

Sunday, January 24, 2010

1st Durham Spelling Bee Results!

Winner Collin Lee (right) and Spelling G

Congratulations to Collin Lee, the winner of the 1st Durham Spelling Bee! Collin went 5 rounds, winning the Bee with the word, infundibuliform (shaped like a funnel).  Second place honors went to Stephanie (CogSciLibrarian) who was neck and neck with Collin until going out on the word, huhu (a New Zealand beetle larva).

We all had a great time.  There were 22 spellers from a total of about 70 people in attendance.  A few of the spellers even came with their own cheering sections.  Team Funk had especially creative signs.  Words ranged from the fun and easy (welcome, friendly, spunky) to the face-squinching (gobemouche, eleemosynary, deipnosophist).  See below for the complete list of words used in the Bee.

Many thanks to Tracy and Joe Van Gogh for sponsoring the Bee and providing the prizes (travel mugs, coffee beans and a $25 gift certificate!).  Thanks also to Mike F. and Russ G. for providing audio equipment and to Mark D. for all the running around and troubleshooting.  Special thanks go to Liz for saving the day with her technical and social expertise.  She rocks so hard.

Here is a complete list of words used at the Bee:

More photos here:

Thanks to everyone for participating.  
You all made it a fun event!

Thursday, January 21, 2010


The lucky skillful winner will receive a coffee gift set: a Joe Van Gogh travel mug with a bag of their freshly roasted coffee!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A 19th century slang dictionary

OK, strictly speaking, I'm straying a bit from the spelling bee here, but it is related.  I love this kind of 19th century period slang.  I should start incorporating more of it into everyday language.  i.e.:

"They began to suspicion, maybe, that they had got the wrong sow by the ear."

I reckon my friend, Jebediah Jones, will have a field day with this link.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Bonus for blog readers!

You, dear readers, get a little something for your effort.  At least one of these words will be in the pool of potential words for the Durham Spelling Bee:


Bon Appétit!

One week until Spelling Day

The 1st Bee is only one week away!  Watch this space for PRIZES and rules.

Date/time/place/map are here:

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Harper's Index: "dictionary"

Don't you just love the Harper's Index? Now you can create your own custom list from their backfile.

Search Harper's Index: Numbers and statistics for "dictionary"

Too much fun!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

1,000 words

1,000 words: that is how many I have selected so far as the pool of words from which to choose during our first bee. We won't need that many (let's hope) but this will ensure that we have a nice mix of easy, medium, difficult, and championship words.

That's not so bad considering estimates indicating the average adult native speaker of English possesses a vocabulary of approximately 38,000 words (estimates vary widely as you might expect; that number is the average of several other averages I looked up, so take it with a grain of salt).

Rest assured that our 1,000 words are Grade-A Prime nutritious and delicious.

Monday, January 4, 2010

More spelling lists
Here are some more lists for you to print out and enjoy.  From the preface:
The Consolidated Word List  is a compilation of over 100 Scripps National Spelling bee word lists dating as far back as 1950. There are 23,413 unique words in this 2004 edition. Parts of speech, language origins, pronunciations, definitions, and sentences are provided for 43% (10,139) of these words. The words are divided into three categories:
• Words Appearing Infrequently (6,615 words; 22% with word information)
• Words Appearing with Moderate Frequency (9,058 words; 40% with word information)
• Words Appearing Frequently  (7,740 words; 66% with word information) 
There is some overlap with the previously posted word lists.  But, really, can there be too many word lists?

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Spelling Lists

Which words should I learn?
The official word source for the Durham Spelling Bee is Merriam-Webster's Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged.  It is the largest American dictionary in existence.  It contains more than 470,000 entries, so to make things easier for you, here are some links to the much smaller Consolidated Word Lists used by the Scripps National Spelling Bee:

Have fun!
Blog Directory So You Think You Can Spell? BlogTogether Wordnik blog Joe Van Gogh