This post has been updated.
By now, academics are even working on theories to explain why so many children of South Asian origin, particularly Indian, win the United States’ celebrated Scripps National Spelling Bee.
In the last 16 years, spellers with roots in this part of the world have won the competition a staggering 12 times. And the most recent members of this elite list are Vanya Shivashankar and Gokul Venkatachalam—co-champions of the 2015 National Spelling Bee.
But to get here, Vanya and Gokul—aged 13 and 14 years, respectively—had to deal with some ridiculously obscure words. Distractions included 283 other spellers and parents in outfits such as this:
In chronological order, here’s the list of words they conquered, sourced from the Guardian’s liveblog that covered the event. Alongside are their shortened meanings, sourced from Merriam-Webster:
|Vanya||cytopoiesis||Production of cells|
|Gokul||cocozelle||A variety of zucchini|
|Vanya||backfisch||German, literally, fish for baking or frying|
|Gokul||población||A center of a municipality in the Philippines|
|Gokul||Canossa||A place or occasion of submission, humiliation, or penance|
|Vanya||cibarial||Relating to food|
|Gokul||zygoneure||A connecting neuron|
|Vanya||bouquetière||Garnished with vegetables|
|Gokul||caudillismo||The doctrine or practice of a caudillo|
|Vanya||thamakau||A large outrigger canoe used in the Fiji islands|
|Gokul||scytale||A method of cipher writing|
|Vanya||tantième||A percentage or proportional share|
|Gokul||cypseline||Of or relating to the swifts|
|Vanya||urgrund||A primal cause or ultimate cosmic principle|
|Gokul||filicite||A fossil fern|
|Vanya||myrmotherine||Feeding upon ants|
|Gokul||sprachgefühl||The character of a language|
|Vanya||zimocca||A rather harsh commercial sponge|
|Gokul||nixtamal||Limed kernels of corn that is ready to be ground into masa|
|Vanya||hippocrepiform||Shaped like a horseshoe|
|Gokul||paroemiology||The subject of proverbs|
|Vanya||scacchite||A mineral consisting of native manganese chloride found in volcanic regions|
|Gokul||pipsissewa||Any of a genus of evergreen herbs of the wintergreen family|
|Vanya||Bruxellois||A native or resident of Brussels, Belgium|
|Gokul||pyrrhuloxia||A cardinal-like grosbeak of the southwestern US and Mexico|
|Vanya||scherenschnitte||The art of cutting paper into decorative designs|
|Gokul||nunatak||A hill or mountain completely surrounded by glacial ice|
Eventually, the duo exhausted all the words on the championship list and won over $30,000 in cash prizes each. They also got a trophy and lots of confetti in their hair.
The annual contest, which started in 1925 with nine contestants, had more than 11 million spellers starting at the local level this year.
Update: The headline of this post has been updated to reflect the fact that the winners were Indian-American teenagers, not Indian teenagers.