24 of the hardest words to have won the National Spelling Bee

  • The Scripps National Spelling Bee has been testing kids’ spelling since 1925.
  • Words used to be much easier: in 1932, for example, the winning word was knack.
  • Today, words have gotten a lot more difficult. The final rounds of the 2019 competition included head scratchers like allothimorph, auftaktigkeit, and sphaeriid.
  • Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories.

If you consider yourself a good speller, just take a look at some of the words that have been included in the Scripps National Spelling Bee in the past – you might change your mind.

When the Scripps National Spelling Bee began in 1925, the words were often much less difficult than they are today – in 1932, for example, the winning word was knack.

But once the Spelling Bee began being broadcast on prime time ESPN, it became more popular, and the words harder.

Here are some of the most difficult words kids have had to spell at the Scripps National Spelling Bee.


“Insouciant” was the winning word in 1951, spelled correctly by Irving Belz.

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Irving Belz, 1951.
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Facebook/Scripps National Spelling Bee

Per Merriam Webster it means “lighthearted unconcern.”


Sandra Sloss won the 1955 bee with “crustaceology.”

Per the Free Dictionary it means “the branch of zoology that studies crustaceans.”


Henry Feldman won the 1960 bee with “eudaemonic.”

Per Merriam Webster it means “producing happiness.”


Jonathan Knisely won the bee in 1971 thanks to “shalloon.”

Per Merriam Webster it means “a lightweight twilled fabric of wool or worsted.”


Robin Kral won in 1972 thanks to “macerate.”

Per Merriam Webster it means “to cause to waste away by or as if by excessive fasting, ” or “to cause to become soft or separated.”


In 1980, Jacques Bailly correctly spelled “elucubrate.”

Per Merriam Webster it means “to work out or express by studious effort.”


The 1987 Spelling Bee’s winning word was “Staphylococci,” correctly spelled by Stephanie Petit.

Per Merriam Webster it is a type of bacteria.


In 1992, Amanda Goad won the bee with “lyceum.”

Per Merriam Webster it means “a hall for public lectures or discussions.”


“Vivisepulture” was the winning word of 1996, and refers to the act of burying alive. The winner of that year’s bee was Wendy Guey.

Per Merriam Webster it means “the act or practice of burying alive.”


“Chiaroscurist” earned Jody-Anne Maxwell the title in 1998, and refers to an artist that specializes in an art form known as chiaroscuro.

Per Merriam Webster it means “an artist who specializes in chiaroscuro.”


“Prospicience” was spelled correctly by Pratyush Buddiga in 2002.

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George W. Bush and Pratyush Buddiga.
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Reuters

Per Merriam Webster it means “the act of looking forward, foresight.”


“Autochthonous” was the winning word in 2004. David Tidmarsh took home the trophy.

Per Merriam Webster it means “indigenous, native.”


The National Spelling Bee’s winning word in 2005 was “Appoggiatura.” Anurag Kashyap won that year.

Per Merriam Webster it means “an embellishing note or tone preceding an essential melodic note or tone and usually written as a note of smaller size.”


Katherine Close won the 2006 Spelling Bee with the word “Ursprache.”

Per Merriam Webster it means “a parent language.”


Evan O’Dorney won in 2007 by correctly spelling “serrefine.”

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Evan O’Dorney and his mother, 2007.
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REUTERS/Jason Reed

Per Merriam Webster it means “a small forceps for clamping a blood vessel.”


“Laodicean” was the winning word in 2009.

Per Merriam Webster it means “lukewarm or indifferent in religion or politics.”

Two members of the Shivashankar family won the Spelling Bee in 2009 and 2015.


In 2011, Sukanya Roy spelled “cymotrichous” to win.

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Sukanya Roy, 2011.
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Reuters/Molly Riley

Per Merriam Webster it means “having the hair wavy.”


The 2015 Spelling Bee included the word “scherenschnitte.”

Per Merriam Webster it means “the art of cutting paper into decorative designs.”


Karthik Nemmani became the latest champion after correctly spelling “koinonia.”

Per Merriam Webster it means “intimate spiritual communion and participative sharing in a common religious commitment and spiritual community.”


In an unprecedented move, eight were named Scripps National Spelling Bee co-champions in 2019.

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Colette Giezentanner, 12, of St. Louis, Missouri, reacts to a biographical video about herself in the final round of the 92nd annual Scripps National Spelling Bee at National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland, U.S., May 30, 2019.
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REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

After 17 rounds that included words like “allothimorph,” “auftaktigkeit,” “sphaeriid,” and “nyaya,”Rishik Gandhasri, Erin Howard, Saketh Sundar, Shruthika Padhy, Sohum Sukhatankar, Abhijay Kodali, Christopher Serrao, and Rohan Raja were named co-champions.