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Professional writers and editors share their losing spelling bee words

The Scripps National Spelling Bee airs Tuesday. As a loose collective of word nerds, we’re big fans.


Monica Riese

Internet Culture

Posted on May 27, 2014   Updated on May 31, 2021, 6:03 am CDT

The Scripps National Spelling Bee airs Wednesday. As a loose collective of word nerds, we’re big fans. We’re sucked in by the etymology nerdery, the fantastic fails, and everything in between; we even collected some of our favorite Bee moments for quick reference.

But for some of us, there’s a certain measure of schadenfreude involved too. Many took part in local bees growing up, and if we didn’t win our respective events, we’ve all got embarrassing words to confess losing on: “entrepreneur,” “hemorrhage,” “conjunction,” “molasses.”

“Conjunction” is especially cruel—I can point fingers because it was my tragic downfall in fifth grade—considering it stumped someone who eventually became a professional editor.

Why keep all the twitchy flashbacks to ourselves, though? As #tweetyourlosingspellingbeeword trended on Twitter in preparation for tomorrow’s airing of the 2014 contest, we asked writers and editors to chime in with their lexicological hubris.

Professional writers/editors, tweet me your losing spelling bee words.

— Cooper Fleishman (@_Cooper) May 27, 2014

Of course, the Internet trolls came out in droves:

@_Cooper bae

— Jessica Misener (@jessmisener) May 27, 2014

@_Cooper I keep forgetting if it’s Mark or Marc or Mar7k but the 7 is silent

— Mark Berman (@themarkberman) May 27, 2014

But most were definitely understandable:

@_Cooper Equilibrium

— Kevin O’Keeffe (@kevinpokeeffe) May 27, 2014

@_Cooper congeal.

— Stephanie Arbetter (@starbetter) May 27, 2014

@_Cooper fluoride

— Hillary Reinsberg (@hreins) May 27, 2014

@SladeHV @_Cooper was multi-year champ until 6th grade. Got me on”shellac.”

— Peter Ogburn (@peterogburn) May 27, 2014

@_Cooper Griddle. Never again.

— Lucas Shanks (@lucasshanks) May 27, 2014

@_Cooper caustic :'(

— Eric Levenson (@ejleven) May 27, 2014

@_Cooper moccasin.

— Fidel Martinez (@fidmart85) May 27, 2014

@_Cooper occasionally

— Andy Cush (@cushac) May 27, 2014

@_Cooper Criticize

— Stefan Becket (@stefanjbecket) May 27, 2014

@_Cooper absorption. to be fair, that word took out most of the contestants. stupid P.

— Sara Morrison (@SaraMorrison) May 27, 2014

@_Cooper incidentally, abecedarian.

— Jeffrey Zuckerman (@from_my_ansible) May 27, 2014

@_Cooper “territoriality” in the CT state spelling bee, 6th grade; “lumen” in the Trumbull town spelling bee, 8th grade

— kevin lincoln (@KTLincoln) May 27, 2014

@_Cooper I spelled “quadrangle” as “quadarangle” which is just plausible enough.

— Seth D. Michaels (@sethdmichaels) May 27, 2014

@_Cooper Phyllophorous

— Kat Kinsman (@kittenwithawhip) May 27, 2014

@_Cooper Yes. Yes it was.

— Kat Kinsman (@kittenwithawhip) May 27, 2014

@_Cooper My vindication came when the eventual winner was on Johnny Carson & a dude in his band muffed it too:

— Kat Kinsman (@kittenwithawhip) May 27, 2014

Even heartbreaking:

@KTLincoln @juliarubin @_Cooper i lost in 8th grade on “fluorescent” and yes i’m still mad about it

— Rachel Sanders (@rachelysanders) May 27, 2014

@_Cooper alarmist

— Hayley Hudson (@hayhud) May 27, 2014

@SladeHV @_Cooper the toughest part wasn’t losing, it was facing the class the next day

— Hayley Hudson (@hayhud) May 27, 2014

@_Cooper the same word (appearance) knocked me out in two different years. spelled it “-ence” both times; was a bad childhood.

— Erik Malinowski (@erikmal) May 27, 2014

@_Cooper earring (4th grade). Won in 3rd grade and it was the last time someone gave me a trophy.

— Tim Donnelly (@timdonnelly) May 27, 2014

@_Cooper “attendance” I thought I heard her say “attendant” and spelled that instead.

— Ma’ggie (@maggieserota) May 27, 2014

@_Cooper I was close to winning my school’s bee when I spelled ‘Buffalo’ with either two L’s or one F, I forget which.

— Evan Weiss (@eaweiss) May 27, 2014

@_Cooper Sandwich. I kid you not. Final round, 6th grade spelling bee, I get sandwich & then I get sandwich wrong (‘h’ in front of the ‘i’)

— Johana Bhuiyan (@JMBooyah) May 27, 2014

@_Cooper “ultraviolet” because I was reading A Clockwork Orange at the time and heard/spelled “ultraviolent” instead

— MichaelAlanConnelly (@malanconnelly) May 27, 2014

@_Cooper soliloquy – I knew how to spell it too, but tripped spelling it out loud. Seems…like a cruel lesson there.

— Clarissa León (@clarissaleon) May 27, 2014

Some words still haunt us:

@_Cooper definitively (still had to spellcheck it)

— Taylor Lorenz (@TaylorLorenz) May 27, 2014

@_Cooper MISOGYNISTIC. Off by one letter. national scripps howard one too. Dad still gives me shit

— Versha Sharma (@versharma) May 27, 2014

Needless to say, we’ve mostly figured out how to use spell-check since our fourth-grade foibles—or at least hired more able copyeditors to sweep our work after we’re done. As for the rest?

@_Cooper pssh, I won that shit.

— Slade Sohmer (@SladeHV) May 27, 2014

Photo via MrPhilDog/Flickr (CC-BY-ND 2.0)

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*First Published: May 27, 2014, 4:16 pm CDT