Spelling bee 2021 – Indian streak broken!

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Zaila is also phenomenally good at dribbling basketballs:

Here's a basketball mixtape of Zaila showing her stuff.

And her name is way cool, especially if she plays point guard, which would make her all the more my bud.

Finally, in case you were wondering:

Murraya paniculata, commonly known as orange jasmine, orange jessamine, china box or mock orange, is a species of shrub or small tree in the family Rutaceae and is native to South Asia, Southeast Asia and Australia.



Selected readings


[h.t. H. Krishnapriyan]


  1. alex said,

    July 9, 2021 @ 4:28 pm


    that would be an interesting thing to really study

  2. Gene hill said,

    July 9, 2021 @ 5:20 pm

    I'm wondering what stand CRT has taken on this event?

  3. David Morris said,

    July 9, 2021 @ 5:46 pm

    Someone named Avant-garde came first? Who would ever have guessed that? Actually, it kind of looks like an autocorrect error.

  4. Neil said,

    July 9, 2021 @ 6:44 pm

    I think the title should be changed. Those children were/are all Indian American. I think it’s an important distinction to be made.

  5. Victor Mair said,

    July 9, 2021 @ 8:12 pm

    Hari Kondabolu on Twitter: "We Lost The #SpellingBee. I am an Indian-American & I am devastated.


  6. Victor Mair said,

    July 9, 2021 @ 8:52 pm

    Ben Zimmer was there in Orlando for the finals last night. You can see him over on the far left when Jill Biden was being interviewed. (He's overseeing the new "word meaning rounds" for Scripps.)

  7. Bathrobe said,

    July 9, 2021 @ 10:29 pm

    Yes, Murraya paniculata is often used in landscaping and gardening, but in southern Queensland it's regarded as an invasive weed. I once planted one at the suggestion of a plant nursery (they'll sell you whatever they can as a "native"), only to have a revegetation contractor walk up to it and unceremoniously pull it out. "It's a weed", he announced.

  8. wanda said,

    July 10, 2021 @ 12:58 am

    @David Morris: "Avant-garde" is actually her real last name.

  9. R. Fenwick said,

    July 10, 2021 @ 3:07 am

    @Bathrobe: as a born and bred southern Queenslander I'd have thought that your revegetation contractor likely represents a pretty small minority. Murraya does definitely have a tendency to feralise and become invasive, but so too do many other widely-grown species and it's not nearly as big a weed problem (yet, perhaps) as other feral escapes like lantana, blackberry, castor bean, morning glories, and even various out-of-environment wattles. Mock orange can still be purchased at essentially any non-specialising nursery, and few gardeners I know would go so far as to uproot one that'd been clearly deliberately planted in a domestic setting.

  10. Bill Benzon said,

    July 10, 2021 @ 7:20 am

    I believe Zaila's father changed the family surname to "Avant-garde" in honor of John Coltrane. In which case one of 'Trane's most famous compositions, "Giant Steps," would seem to be the theme of the day.

  11. david said,

    July 10, 2021 @ 9:09 am

    Zaila is also known as a juggler.

  12. Cervantes said,

    July 10, 2021 @ 9:57 am

    It's true that her father changed Zaila's last name in part in honor of Trane, but he actually changed his own name to Spacetime, as I understand it. That would be in honor of the universe, I suppose.

  13. Dr. Emilio Lizardo said,

    July 10, 2021 @ 10:48 am

    @Gene hill. Isn’t it cultural appropriation?

  14. KevinM said,

    July 10, 2021 @ 11:38 am

    Power forward, surely?
    "I recently finished my 1000th chapter book." Aahh!

  15. Rose Eneri said,

    July 10, 2021 @ 4:20 pm

    I would be interested in Ms. Avant-garde's linguistic background. Being from Louisiana, does she speak any French or Creole? What other languages has she been exposed to? Any of which might have contributed to her superior language skills.

  16. Breffni said,

    July 10, 2021 @ 4:32 pm

    The official told her that "murraya" doesn't contain the surname "Murray" as in Bill Murray, and that it's based on a Swedish name. I suppose you could argue that that's technically correct on both counts – the person for whom the plant is named, though of Scottish ancestry, was Swedish, and Bill's "Murray" has an Irish root apparently unrelated to the Scottish name – but it was highly misleading in my view. Lucky she got it anyway.

  17. Stephen Hart said,

    July 10, 2021 @ 6:02 pm

    Breffni said,
    The official told her that "murraya" doesn't contain the surname "Murray" as in Bill Murray,

    But it does: Murray a

    Also, are spelling bees really using genus names? Species names? Doesn't that open a can of Lumbricus?

  18. Breffni said,

    July 11, 2021 @ 12:48 am

    But it does: Murray a

    Precisely. And it was odd for the official to tell Zaila otherwise.

  19. Michael Vnuk said,

    July 11, 2021 @ 1:49 am

    Stephen Hart wondered: 'are spelling bees really using genus names?'

    Lots of plants are known by the genus name already, eg dahlia, chrysanthemum, cannabis. Sometimes a plant has one or more common names that may be more common than the genus name. Sometimes a plant has a genus name that is rarely used outside limited circles, and so the word will not be recorded in the source dictionaries of the spelling bees.

    According to Wikipedia at 'Frank Louis Neuhauser', Neuhauser won the first National Spelling Bee (now known as the Scripps National Spelling Bee) in 1925 by successfully spelling the word 'gladiolus'. 'Gladiolus' is a genus name for a plant.

  20. Michael W. said,

    July 11, 2021 @ 1:52 am

    It's interesting to see this as an example of 'African-American' being developed as a term, especially as distinct from 'Black'. There was a previous Black winner, but she was not American (Jody-Anne Maxwell, a Jamaican). Though it has led to some outlets mistakenly reporting Avant-garde as the first Black winner; I wonder if some of them have a style guide that recommends a particular term over another.

  21. Doug said,

    July 11, 2021 @ 6:33 am

    Stephen Hart said:

    "Also, are spelling bees really using genus names? Species names?"

    The contestants are such good spellers nowadays that the spelling bee has to resort to things that barely qualify as English words. You can see from the Wikipedia page:


    that the 2016 bee, for example, came down to "Feldenkrais" and "gesellschaft".

  22. Bathrobe said,

    July 12, 2021 @ 8:05 am

    @ R Fenwick

    your revegetation contractor likely represents a pretty small minority.

    It wasn't a domestic setting (i.e., home garden), which is why the contractor pulled it out. People engaged in serious revegetation are pretty aware of the distinction between "native" and "local". Many plant nurseries, on the other hand, are quite irresponsible in their recommendations. People with home gardens are maybe just happy if it's "native" and perhaps less concerned with a purely local ecology? (Just guessing).

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