Another Scripps National Spelling Bee, now in its 90th year, has come and gone. This year, the winner was 12-year-old Ananya Vinay, who correctly spelled “marocain,” a type of heavy crepe fabric. Impressive! How many of the winning words do you think you could spell correctly? Are they words most of us are familiar with or do you have to be a super genius to spell them?
Maybe not—at least according to one previous winner.
“A lot of it is luck, to be totally honest,” 2006 winner Kerry Close, now a 23-year-old reporter at Money Magazine, told the online publication Quartz.
Over the years, the winning words have run the gamut from very easy (“knack” in 1932 and “therapy” in 1940) to semi-challenging (“dulcimer” in 1949 and “milieu” in 1985) to downright impossible (“eudaemonic” in 1960 and “chiaroscurist” in 1998).
Despite a few simple words here and there, the spelling bee, which takes two full days to complete and spans 13 total hours, is renowned for its difficult words. Though contestants practice and memorize thousands of words in preparation (Close says she memorized a whopping 30,000 in 2006 but was still unfamiliar with nearly a quarter of the words spelled in the competition), sheer brainpower isn’t enough.
Some of the winning words from the past have been so difficult because they don’t sound like they should—an “s” can easily sound like a “c” and vice (see?!) versa.
For example, the word “sacrilegious” is defined as “committing gross irreverence toward a hallowed person, place, or thing.” It stands to reason that the word might have a similar construction to the word “religion.” It’s a reasonable assumption to make, given the definition. But if you spell “sacrilegious” the way you’d spell “religion,” then the “i” and the “e” are reversed—and you’d get the word wrong.
Then there’s a word like “scherenschnitte” (from the winning round in 2015), which just seems wholly unfair. The word has German origins, but is technically an English word, which is one of the rules of the spelling bee. The definition of the word is “the art of cutting paper into decorative designs,” but unless you are familiar with the German language, hearing a word pronounced “share-en-shnit-uh” is going to trip you up every time.
Luckily for 2017 winner Ananya, the spelling bee is over. She gets to take home $40,000 in cash, a $2,500 savings bond and a collection of reference books—in addition the lifelong glory of having won.
Think you’re up for the challenge? Here’s a full list of the winning words from each year of the spelling bee.
Disclaimer: The Scripps National Spelling Bee is an event put on by The E.W. Scripps Company, Simplemost Media’s parent company.