Archive for Spelling

Spelling and intuition

Long have we pondered the overwhelming dominance by individuals of Indian heritage over the spelling bees.  Do they have some sort of mysterious power or secret for memorizing hundreds of thousands of obscure words? 

Now we have an answer from one of the masters himself, Dev Shah, a ninth-grader living in Largo, Florida, who won the Scripps National Spelling Bee in June of this year.


I won the National Spelling Bee

This is what it takes to master spelling.

By Dev Shah, WSJ


I never expected to win. I had lost more than two dozen spelling bees since I started competing in the fourth grade, and last year, I didn’t even qualify for the national competition. If that wasn’t enough pressure, this was my final year of eligibility. This spelling bee was my last shot.

The annual Scripps National Spelling Bee is an incredible event. Each year, some 11 million students from across the country take part in the spelling bee circuit, all vying for the championship title. After competing in rigorous local bees, about 200 spellers make it to the national stage, and a handful of them qualify for the grand finals. Of course, only one can be crowned the National Spelling Bee champion. This year that student was me.

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Abbreviated and nonstandard kanji

From Nathan Hopson:

I have been reading some handwritten documents from the 1960s and 1970s, and have been reminded that even beyond abbreviations, there were still "nonstandard" kanji in use. I guess this took me off guard mostly because these are school publications.

On the abbreviated side, the most obvious example is:

第 → 㐧

The "nonstandard" kanji that interested me most were these two:
1. 管 → 官 part written as 友+、


2. 食缶 as a single character, but paired with 食 to be 食[食缶]


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Complementary water

François Lang saw this sign at the local farmers market:

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Greco-Sinitic ψάμμος / ʃˠa mɑk̚ ("desert")

[This is a guest post by Chau Wu]

The psammo- component of the winning word in this year's Scripps National Spelling Bee, psammophile, is of interest to me because it is a good example of European-Sinitic lexical correspondence. The Ancient Greek word psámmos (ψάμμος) means ‘sand’.  When used together with a definite article (ἡ ψάμμος), it also means ‘the sandy desert’. Examples can be found in Herodotus: ‘the sandy desert’ of Libya (4.173), Ethiopia (3.25), and Egypt (3.26). In Sinitic, ‘sandy desert’ is 沙漠 (MSM shāmò / Tw soa-bô·). From psammos to shāmò, it is easy to see three processes of simplification that may have taken place to transform the Greek loan: simplification of the initial cluster ps- > s-, that of the medial -mm- > -m-, and the loss of the final -s. The simplification of ps- > s- is also seen in Greek derived English words such as psyche, pseudo-, and psalm.

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Dog bites man: Indian wins spelling bee

New old news:

"Dev Shah wins 2023 Scripps National Spelling Bee by correctly spelling 'psammophile'"
Chris Bumbaca
USA TODAY (6/1/23)

Another year, same story:

The 2023 Scripps National Spelling Bee ended the old-fashioned way.

Two competitors left on the stage. No spell-off required.

Dev Shah, an eighth-grader from Largo, Florida, spelled "psammophile" correctly to win the 95th national Bee and the 50,000 dollar prize on Thursday. Charlotte Walsh, the hometown kid from just across the Potomac River in Arlington, Virginia, could not nail "daviely" in the preceding round. Walsh's prize was 25,000 dollars for the second-place finish, while the third-place finishers ― Shradha Rachamreddy and Surya Kapu ― each won 12,500 dollars.

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Egregious errors

From Taiwan News (3/25/23), by Keoni Everington:

"Taiwanese 'Hello Kitty' English-Chinese dictionary has 70 'egregious errors'

Publisher ACME Cultural Enterprise Co has admitted errors but not recalled dictionaries"

Cover of dictionary, example of misspelling. (Eryk Smith photo)

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Unususual Original

From the Facebook account of Mei Han:

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Creeping Romanization in Chinese, part 5

Dave Thomas recently watched a Chinese movie with a liberal sprinkling (more than fifty instances) of alphabet letters substituting for Chinese characters in the closed captions.  The title of the movie is "Yǒng bù huítóu 永不回頭" ("Never Back Off" [official English title]; "Never Look Back").  Here's a small selection of the partially alphabetized expressions:

bié B wǒ 别B我 | B = bī 逼 || "don't force / push me"

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How many syllables in "World Cup"?

I started to ponder this problem because, over in the comments section of "The value and validity of translation for learning classical languages" (12/9/22) where we are having an energetic discussion about how to pronounce "www", Philip Taylor averred, "I pronounce it as 'World-wide web' (i.e., three syllables)".

That took me a bit aback.  Made me stop and think.

It must mean that Philip, and most people, I suppose, think they pronounce "world" as though it had one syllable.  Fair enough.  That's what all dictionaries and online resources I've consulted hold:  "world" has only one syllable.

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"Copy editors? Who needs copy editors?" — part 325

From Mark Swofford in Taiwan:

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(A)tayal, Chinese, and English trilingual signs in Taiwan

Photographs by Mark Swofford from Fuxing District of Taoyuan City:

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Spelling bee 2022 — back on track

This report can be relatively perfunctory, because the results are almost always a foregone conclusion.  After a hiatus because of the pandemic lockdowns and then an incredible shocker last year (see "Selected readings" below), there are basically no surprises… though the format has evolved.

The new thing this time was a "spell-off" that kicked in if no winner came out after a certain number of rounds. It was hard to bring the previous bees to a conclusive end because the participants were so consummately well prepared — there was an 8-way tie in 2019.  I like the new format because, not only does it eliminate overly long proceedings and multiple ties, it also adds an element of extra drama and speed to the finale.  The unsurprising thing this year was that 11 out of 13 finalists looked to be of Indian origin. (source)

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A quaint and curious English village name

In studying the history of the Chinese Imperial examination system, I came upon an individual named Stafford Northcote (1818-1887), 1st Earl of Iddesleigh, who was instrumental in devising the British civil service.  Naturally, I tried to pronounce the name of the village he was from, but couldn't quite wrap my head and tongue around it.  So I decided I'd better do a bit of research on the history of Iddesleigh to see what topolectal gems lay hidden in that perplexing concatenation of six consonants and four vowels.

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