Why is it called a bee? + A practical study guide!

Good afternoon busy bees!

The weather is slowly but surely beginning to warm up, and with that our spelling bee gets closer and closer. Perhaps we will even be lucky enough to have the cherry blossoms in bloom during our competition weekend!

Today, we're going to discuss the origins of the spelling bee, including how it may have gotten its name. We'll also be sharing some useful spelling lists students can study in order to best prepare for the spelling bee. While the Tokyo Spelling Bee does not have an official list for students, we can share some high quality alternatives!


Why is it called a spelling "bee"?

So, where did the "bee" in spelling bee come from? Does it have to do with actual bees? And when did spelling bees even begin?

Spelling bees as we know them today have their origin in the early 20th century. In 1925, the Louisville Courier-Journal in Kentucky "invited other American newspapers to join it in sponsoring students to compete in a national bee"1, and the national spelling bee was born! Scripps assumed control of the national spelling bee several years later in 1941, and continues this role today! The Merriam-Webster Dictionary also became officially affiliated with the national spelling bee in 1958.

The concept of a spelling competition dates even further back. According to the Smithsonian, Benjamin Franklin recommended utilizing spelling competitions in school way back in 1750 (272 years ago!), and spelling competition is even referenced in Mark Twain's famous novel The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, published in 1876.

The term "spelling bee" came around in the 1870s. And no, it doesn't relate to the bees that make honey! The term refers "to a community social event with a common goal, such as a quilting bee", according to the Smithsonian. According to Scripps, the earliest known example of this definition in print came from a publication in 1769, with reference to a "spinning bee", although it is believed the term was used orally even earlier than that. "Spelling bee" specifically originated in the United States. No one can quite agree on the true origin of the word "bee", but it is safe to say it has been around for quite some time.

Here are some more fun spelling facts:

  • Before the name "spelling bee" became common, people sometimes called these competitions "spelldowns" and "spelling combat"! (Source)

  • Prior to the early 17th century, there was no such thing as "proper" spelling in English! (Source)

  • The Scripps Spelling Bee began airing on ESPN, a popular sports channel, in 1994. So technically, spelling is a sport! (Source)


Spelling Lists for Superb Spellers

While the Tokyo Spelling Bee does not have an official spelling list for students to study with, we'd like to take this opportunity and share a few spelling lists we believe will prove useful for our competitors. There are many ways to use these in your studies - you can practice them through writing, through recitation, or even with a parent or friend who can test your spelling prowess!

Finally, for those who have yet to register, we continue to encourage you, your friends and classmates to do so soon! The 3rd/4th grade, as well as 5th/6th grade, competitions are filling up quickly. We're looking for more competitors to fill our 7th/8th grade competition. If you know someone at your school, in your neighborhood or in your after-school activities, who might be interested, consider inviting them to join the competition! You can find the link to register here.

Is there something else you'd like to see included in an upcoming blog post? If so, we have created a Google Form that anyone can fill out with suggestions or questions! Please feel free to send us a request for anything you'd like to see in an upcoming blog post here!

Until next time!