This week, Americans across the country have united to cheer on local contestants participating in the orthographic sport known as the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
A field of roughly 11 million students nationwide pared down to 562 spellers at the start of the national competition Tuesday. Roughly a dozen spellers will advance to the prime-time finals Thursday night. The winner receives more than $50,000 in cash and prizes.
Here's everything you need to know this year's Spelling Bee:
Why Is It Called a Spelling Bee?
While the origin of the word "bee" is still disputed, according to Merriam-Webster — which has been involved with the competition since 1957 — the word bee is an alteration of a word that meant "voluntary help given by neighbors toward the accomplishment of a particular task," and comes from the Middle English word bene.
The word has historically been used to describe group activities or occasions when farmers or neighbors would help each other, such as a "logging bee," "husking bee" or "apple bee."
Before it became commonly called "spelling bees," it went by Trials in Spelling, Spelling School, Spelling Match, Spelling-Fight and Spelling Combat, according to Webster's.
The National Spelling Bee first started in 1925 when nine newspapers joined together to host a spelling bee. That year, only nine were in the championship, having the honor of meeting President Calvin Coolidge before going head-to-head. In 1941, the Scripps Howard News Service took over the event and has run it since with the help of local sponsors, the majority of which are daily and weekly newspapers.
How Do You Compete in the Spelling Bee?
Students attending schools enrolled in the Scripps program are eligible to participate. Spellers usually compete on the classroom-level to determine who will participate in the school bee. School bee winners often determine who will advance to a district or county competition which then feeds into a regional or state bee for a chance to go to the National Spelling Bee competition.
The preliminary rounds at nationals consists of a written test and two rounds of oral spelling. The fourth round is a computerized spelling and vocabulary test and round five and six consists of oral spelling. Each round is scored, and at the end of the sixth round the top 12 spellers advance to the prime-time finals. Most of those who don't make it were eliminated
This year's bee had the biggest field ever, with 562 spellers. More than half got in through Scripps' wild-card program. The program, launched last year, gives students who win a school-level bee, but lose a county or regional competition, the opportunity to request a wild-card invitation to the national bee. Scripps gives up to 225 wild cards, prioritizing those who have been to nationals before and then to older spellers who are running out of eligibility.
How to Prepare for a Spelling Bee
Scripps releases an annual list of 450 study words for grade levels one through eight. Once they've mastered those words, they move on to learn the more than 1,100 words in Spell It! Finally, spellers expand their spelling skill set by practicing with the Merriam-Webster's Word Central.
Want to test your spelling skills? Take this spelling quiz to see if you have what it takes to compete on the national stage.
Who Are This Year's Spellers?
This year's field hails from all 50 states, several territories and other countries, including the Bahamas, Canada, Germany, Ghana, Jamaica, Japan and South Korea. The spellers range in age from 7 to 15.
Texas sent a total of nine spellers to the finals — more than any other state —including two spellers who placed in the top 10 in last year's National Spelling Bee. Rohan Raja, 13, placed 10th in 2018, while 12-year-old Abhijay Kodali placed third.
There are also nine sets of siblings competing in this year's bee and 162 returning spellers.
For a full list of spellers, click here.
What do Spelling Bee Winners Get?
In addition to bragging rights and a trophy, the champion of the Scripps competition will win $52,500 in cash prizes and $400 worth of Encyclopedia Britannica works.
If two spellers tied for first place, the cash prize for each would be the sum of the prize amounts for first and second place divided by two ($50,000 + $25,000) / 2. Therefore, each speller tied for first place would receive $37,500.
The other finalists will receive:
- Second place: $25,000
- Third place: $15,000
- Fourth place: $10,000
- Fifth place: $5,000
- Sixth place: $2,500
All participants receive one-year subscriptions to Merriam-Webster Unabridged Online and Britannica Online premium. They'll also receive a 2019 U.S. Mint Coin Proof Set.
How to Watch the 2019 National Spelling Bee
The final round of the 92nd annual Scripps National Spelling Bee will be televised at 8:30 p.m. ET Thursday on ESPN. The competition is taking place at the Gaylord National Resort outside of Washington, D.C.