Spelling Bee Ups the Ante: What Does it Mean?

Vocabulary component added to National Spelling Bee

By Emily Feldman
|  Tuesday, Apr 9, 2013  |  Updated 6:05 PM EDT
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Nat'l Spelling Bee Adds Vocab Questions

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Snigdha Nandipati of San Diego won the 2012 Scripps National Spelling Bee after she correctly spelled the word "guetapens" in round 13. She didn't need to define it.

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For the first time in 86 years, contestants in the Scripps National Spelling Bee will be asked a question their predecessors have never faced: What does it mean?

Bee organizers announced Tuesday the addition of a vocabulary evaluation, which will count for 50 percent of a speller's overall score and impact who will advance to the semifinal and championship rounds next month.

"This is a significant change in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, but also a natural one," the director of the Bee, Paige Kimble, said. "It represents a deepening of the Bee's commitment to its purpose: to help students improve their spelling, increase their vocabularies, learn concepts and develop correct English usage that will help them all their lives."

The vocabulary portion will be computer-based and multiple-choice. Sample questions include: What does it mean to appertain? (To belong either as something appropriate or as an attribute.) And, what does it mean to winnow? (To take out undesired parts.)

Local championships wrapped up at the end of last month, so all contestants vying for the national title have the same window of time to brush up on their vocabulary. More than 280 spellers will compete in Washington D.C. May 28 to May 30 in the Bee, which will be broadcast on ESPN.

Last year, 14-year-old Snigdha Nandipati won -- her prize included $30,000 in cash, a trophy, a $2,500 savings bond, a $5,000 scholarship and other perks -- for correctly spelling "guetapens," a French-derived noun meaning ambush, snare or trap. She was not required to define it.

This year's contestants who make it to the final round will not be asked to define words either—the vocabulary portion will be wrapped up by May 29.

News of the rule change reverberated on Twitter where commenters shared their outrage, amusement and occasional gratitutude for the rule change. Here's a sampling:

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