Dog bites man: Indian wins spelling bee

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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.

With time running out on Scripps' intended broadcast window, the judges could have called for a "spell-off," a 90-second window for competitors to spell as many words as they can. Instead, they allowed Shah and Walsh to duke it out in one final orthographic volley.

"It's surreal," Shah said onstage after confetti fell on his head and he lifted the trophy high above. "I don't know if it's settled in. My legs are still shaking."

Minutes later, still onstage, Shah felt the same way.

“I made a lot of sacrifices these last three months and I’m glad I made them," Shah said. "I’m glad to now get back what I sacrificed.”

Shah cut back on his extracurricular activities to dedicate more time to the dictionary. Some days he would not even go to school, since exams were over. He’d be better off studying, Shah figured. That end-of-year field trip his classmates at Morgan Fitzgerald Middle School went on? No thanks. 

“I knew I had to study,” Shah said. "It paid off."

Check out Shah's reaction to the win in the video embedded in the article.

As H. Krishnapriyan, who called this "olds" to my attention, quipped:  "I guess this is now the 'Dog bites man' sort of news!"


Selected readings


  1. M. Paul Shore said,

    June 3, 2023 @ 3:55 pm

    The prize amounts strike me as being a bit meager given the prominence of the event and the difficulty of winning, particularly when you consider that these are kids who’ll be facing college costs in the near future. I’d say the amounts should be at
    least doubled.

  2. Laura Morland said,

    June 3, 2023 @ 4:16 pm

    I agree with Mr. Shore.

    However, I'm writing because I was surprised by your title,"Indian wins spelling bee." I watched the video: young Dev Shah appears to me to be American; his accent is completely American. He was probably born in the U.S.

    In that case, wouldn't it be more appropriate to write "Indian American wins…"?

    That may inspire the question: why no hyphen? Word is out that Asian Americans, as well as Mexican Americans and others, eschew the hyphen; see the link in my name for the text cited below:

    Asian Americans have eschewed the hyphen for years, but the African American community has been less unified in whether to use it or not… The trend in recent years, though, has been to remove the hyphen.

    The Chicago Manual of Style has not called for the hyphen for some years. The 17th edition explains: “Whether terms such as African American, Italian American, Chinese American, and the like should be spelled open or hyphenated has been the subject of considerable controversy. But since the hyphen does not aid comprehension in such terms as those mentioned above, it may be omitted unless a particular author or publisher prefers the hyphen.”

  3. Joe said,

    June 3, 2023 @ 5:31 pm

    I agree with the previous commenter that to my ear "Indian" means a person from India. Even in America, where most people are some kind of American, it doesn't work to leave off the other half of the phrase without strong context. The US is now the home of many immigrants from India, and (despite everything) it's the term preferred by many indigenous Americans too.

    At least it wasn't "Asian"…

  4. crturang said,

    June 3, 2023 @ 6:18 pm

    There is also the term "desi" current among Indian Americans. This may cover South Asians broadly.

  5. Victor Mair said,

    June 3, 2023 @ 6:47 pm


    Thanks very much for mentioning "desi". That's a simpatico term among South Asians.


    Desi[a] (Hindustani: देसी (Devanagri), دیسی (Perso-Arabic); Bangla: দেশী; Sinhala: දේශී; Tamil: தேசி; (also Desi /ˈdeɪsi, ˈdɛsi/; Hindustani: [deːʃiː], [deːsiː]) is a word used to describe the people, cultures, and products of the Indian subcontinent and their diaspora, derived from Sanskrit देश (deśá), meaning "land, country". Deshi traces its origin to the people of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, and may also include people from Sri Lanka and Nepal.



  6. Thomas Rees said,

    June 3, 2023 @ 7:00 pm

    “Psammophile” is in my reading vocabulary, but “daviely” seems to be a hapax from Burns. Is that fair? How is it pronounced? What does it mean?

  7. Chris Button said,

    June 3, 2023 @ 9:23 pm

    Here would be a good place to discuss the final "k" in "daviely" that the second place finisher (mis)heard and then misspelled the word as a result.

  8. Chris Button said,

    June 3, 2023 @ 9:32 pm

    "daviely" as "daevilick" (courtesy of BBC news)

  9. crturang said,

    June 3, 2023 @ 11:40 pm

    desa would have had an original meaning simply of "place" in Sanskrit, later extended to mean land and country. Older texts referenced here have the meaning of place and the ones that have the meaning of kingdom or country are relatively new.

  10. Victor Mair said,

    June 4, 2023 @ 5:48 am

    @Laura Morland

    I understand the points you are making and thank you for them.

    The wording of the title was suggested by H. Krishnapriyan, and the way it came out was a matter of rhetorical symmetry.

    As I think you know, I have the utmost respect and highest regard for persons of Indian descent, whose ancestral culture and languages I have been studying for more than half a century.

  11. charles antaki said,

    June 4, 2023 @ 9:09 am

    Victor Mair gives a polite response to Laura Morland, but I wonder if it really does answer the point – which is not Prof Mair's respect for persons of Indian descent, nor the wording chosen by his correspondent, but rather the fairness of the way that an American citizen of Indian descent ought to be referred to.

    I don't live inthe States, so apologies if this is mistaken: but since there seems to be a general consensus in favour of Italian-American, African-American (with or without the hyphen), and so on, then Indian-American looks like the preferable choice.

    "Indian" on its own would (in the UK at least, and I would guess in the US) strongly implies an Indian national, which is at least inaccurate, and possibly hurtful.

  12. Laura Morland said,

    June 4, 2023 @ 9:14 am

    @VHM Thanks for your response.

    I can well understand how the desire for rhetorical symmetry may sometimes tip the scales in favor of fewer, albeit less precise, syllables.

    And I never doubted for a instant your respect for the languages, cultures, and peoples of India!

    Nevertheless, ours is a country of immigrants, and I've heard too many stories from Asian Americans about how they're made to feel "different," even in the pluralistic world of the San Francisco Bay Area, not to point out the flaw in the LL title.

    Labeling someone who was probably born in Florida *only* by his presumed country of origin (it's possible his parents may not even be from India, I know a Shah family from Pakistan) unfortunately may contribute to the perception he is not a "real American". (But that's not to disparage the pride that all desis should take in this young man.)

    P.S. I finally was able to learn a few facts about Dev Shah – – his parents are in fact from India, but he was indeed born in Florida, as I had suspected.

  13. Adrian Bailey said,

    June 4, 2023 @ 9:21 am

    "Writing daviely" is a section on p206 of David Crystal's (excellent) Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language (2003 edition), where he describes it as "one of 75 [Scots] lexical items expressing tiredness" and gives its use as restricted to the Aberdeen and Banff counties. So, it's not just a Burns word, but I still wouldn't include it in a spelling bee.

  14. Jonathan Smith said,

    June 4, 2023 @ 10:02 am

    While @Laura Morland's account is logically airtight and reflects normal progressive-minded practice, American-born (grand…)children of immigrants from India, China, etc., routinely refer to themselves in the U.S. context simply as "Indian", "Chinese", etc. (and informal survey says they tend to regard "Chinese American" etc. as "white people lingo.") Of course it is easy to build a plausible progressive account of the (institutional racist) reasons for this preference, but the fact remains that it creates a weird alignment between these individuals' preferred descriptors for themselves and those that white supremacists, Chinese ethnic chauvinists, etc., would apply to them. So it's complicated…

  15. crturang said,

    June 4, 2023 @ 12:59 pm

    >>nor the wording chosen by his correspondent,

    To clarify, I am the correspondent and I did not **choose** the word Indian. It may have been suggested by the mail that I sent.

    Having said that, I would not have likely given a second thought to the wording, had it not become a point of discussion. I suppose the addition of -American, becomes important in the context in which some sort of national identity needs to be close to the surface and there is an explicit need to acknowledge that a particular group also shares the national identity.

    In India itself, people from different regions, different religions, etc. are referred to without suffixing their identities with something like -Indian. I guess desi encompasses all the identities, without any implication of belonging to a nation-state.

    Incidentally, Shah could also be the surname of Gujarati who could have gone to places in Africa (Kenya, Uganda, South Africa,…) in the 19th and 20th centuries and then to other destinations.

  16. Dan Curtin said,

    June 5, 2023 @ 8:14 am

    /geezing ON*
    I am 71 years old and grew up in Buffalo, New York (for context.) When I was a kid (1950s and early 1960) people were "Polish", "Italian", "Irish", "Japanese", "Chinese", regardless of time in the USA, at least in day-to-day speech. My ancestors had been in the US at least 100 years, but I was Irish. My grandfather often called Germans, "Dutchman." For the most part these were said with neutral connotation, but of course tone of voice could change that.

    I pass over the touchy subject of the names for black people, though in my lace-curtain Irish family the N word (as well was as the F word, etc.) was almost never heard. The *-American would have been understood, I believe, but rarely used. After African-American became common, then the other hyphens became common.

    When I meet "real" Irish people, (I play Irish traditional music) I am careful to say I am American, they are understandably irritated by Irish-Americans' habit of claiming Irishness!

    /geezing OFF* (Nah it's never off!)

  17. Taylor, Philip said,

    June 5, 2023 @ 2:44 pm

    A British (or perhaps simply a personal) perspective,
    1) MPS and Laura Morland both feel that the prize is small. I, on the other hand, was surprised to read that a monetary prize was offered at all — I had naïvely thought that the competitors were participating simply for the potential glory of winning.
    2) Indian v. some other word. For me, the used of word was totally unexceptionable — the boy is genetically Indian, and that is therefore the most accurate way of describing him. My wife is Vietnamese, our head chef is French, one sous-chef is Philippino, our most recent chef is Vietnamese, we have two Ukrainian members of staff, and our most recent member of front-of-house staff is South African. All describe themselves as such, none think of themselves as Cornish, or English, or British, or any superset thereof, despite Britain being the country of residence for all and many holding British passports. My Vietnamese cousin is married to a Frenchman, and they and their children live in America — I would be very surprised if any of the four identified themselves as Americans.

  18. Levantine said,

    June 8, 2023 @ 1:22 am

    Taylor Philip, these young people were born in America to parents who hold US citizenship. The comparisons you draw to your staff aren’t at all relevant.

  19. Taylor, Philip said,

    June 8, 2023 @ 5:25 am

    You may well be (probably are) quite correct, Levantine, but I would argue that country of birth and nationality of parents are only two of the factors to be considered — the third, and by far the most important, is how do those parents and how do their children think of themselves — as Indian, or as American ? Do we know ?

  20. Rodger C said,

    June 8, 2023 @ 9:47 am

    On a different note, why the surprise? 24 of the past 31 National Spelling Bee champions have has South Asian names.

  21. Jonathan Smith said,

    June 8, 2023 @ 2:18 pm

    @Rodger C "dog bites man" = the unsurprising occurs

  22. Rodger C said,

    June 9, 2023 @ 1:36 pm

    Oh, right.

  23. emmasophia said,

    June 16, 2023 @ 2:07 pm

    Wow, what an incredible achievement! Congrats to Dev Shah for winning the Scripps National Spelling Bee. Your hard work and dedication paid off. Enjoy the well-deserved victory!

  24. stanrobert said,

    June 16, 2023 @ 2:09 pm

    I also want to acknowledge Charlotte Walsh for her outstanding performance as the runner-up in the competition. It takes an immense amount of skill and determination to reach that level, and Charlotte should be proud of her achievement. The prize money for both Dev and Charlotte is a well-deserved recognition of their spelling abilities.

    The decision by the judges to forgo a spell-off and allow Shah and Walsh to have one final face-off added to the suspense and drama of the event. It must have been an intense moment for both participants, with the weight of the entire competition resting on their final spell. Kudos to both of them for handling the pressure with grace and showcasing their linguistic prowess.

  25. Mohini Shinde said,

    June 29, 2023 @ 8:36 am

    @Rodger C comment

    On a different note, why the surprise? 24 of the past 31 National Spelling Bee champions have has South Asian names.

    Let us be more specific, Not South Asian. They all are Indian-American.

    And yes title should be "Once Again Indian-American wins Spelling bee competition" and not " Indian wins Spelling bee"

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