SPELLBOUND

All the ridiculous words two Indian-American teenagers got right to win the US spelling bee

Quartz india
Quartz india

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:

Speller Word Meaning
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.

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