The battle arena isn’t an ice rink or even a basketball court. Nor are the combatants bigger, faster or outsized in any physical way. But for the 281 children participating in year’s national spelling bee, the competition is as fierce as any sporting event.
The verbal fisticuffs began this week, appropriately televised by the sports network ESPN, which will also broadcast the finals Thursday night. The winner of the 86th Scripps National Spelling Bee gets more than $30,000 cash and prizes.
In addition to the usual words that leave most adults scratching their heads (such as cynosure, something so brilliant that it attracts attention, or Eocene, one of Earth’s geology periods between 55 million and 33.9 million years ago) there were a number of words that came from foreign roots and have worked their way into popular language in the United States.
“Glasnost,” the period of increased openness that many believe contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union was followed by “perestroika,” the word for Soviet attempts to restructure its system as it tried to move from state and bureaucratic control of the economy and political system.