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National Spelling Bee Winning Words: A Deeper Look

championship trophy for the Scripps National Spelling Bee 2019

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The Scripps National Spelling Bee has grown to become an international phenomenon. Consider such tough spelling bee words as “insouciant” and “knaidel.” It’s inspiring to watch the young contestants on stage. Most adults probably couldn’t spell them correctly, let alone know what they mean! As you read through this complete list of national spelling bee words, ask yourself how many you know. Would you be able to spell them on live nationwide television?

Winning National Spelling Bee Words

The English language has literally hundreds of thousands of words. This number continues to grow each year. You could debate what distinguishes “real words” for “made up words” for hours too. In any case, spelling bee competitors can’t rely only on their vast vocabulary. They also have to consider word origins, parts of speech, and other contextual clues. 

Take a deeper look into the winning spelling bee words over the decades. You’ll see a remarkable range with unwavering complexity.

1925 to 1950: The Early Years

The first ever Scripps National Spelling Bee took place in 1925. Some people might think that early national spelling bee words were easier. Perhaps, but many of these winning words were undeniably challenging in their own right.

national spelling bee winning word gladiolus 1925national spelling bee winning word gladiolus 1925
  • Gladiolus (1925): A tropical plant with sword-shaped leaves and funnel-shaped flowers

  • Cerise (1926): A deep to vivid purplish red, cherry-colored

  • Abrogate (1927): To do away with or abolish, especially by authority

  • Knack (1928): A clever skill or special talent for doing something 

  • Luxuriance (1929): The property of being characterized by rich or profuse growth 

  • Albumen (1930): The white of an egg, consistently mainly of albumin and water

  • Foulard (1931): A lightweight twill or other plain-woven material with a printed pattern 

  • Invulnerable (1932): Immune to attack, impossible to damage

  • Torsion (1933): The process or condition of twisting or being twisted

  • Brethren (1934): Members of a group (especially a male religious order), brothers 

  • Intelligible (1935): Capable of being understood

  • Eczema (1936): A noncontagious skin disorder characterized by inflammation and itchy scales

  • Promiscuous (1937): A lack of discrimination or a person who casually has sex

  • Sanitarium (1938): A special health care facility for treating people with chronic disease

  • Canonical (1939): Conforming to orthodox or well-established rules or patterns

  • Therapy (1940): Treatment of illness, injury or disability

  • Initials (1941): An abbreviation of a person’s name using the first letters of their first, last and sometimes middle name

  • Sacrilegious (1942): Acting or speaking very disrespectfully toward something sacred

  • Semaphore (1946): A visual signaling apparatus with flags, lights or moving arms

  • Chlorophyll (1947): The green pigments found in plant cells for photosynthesis

  • Psychiatry (1948): The branch of medicine concerned with mental and emotional disorders

  • Onerous (1949): Something that is troublesome, burdensome or difficult to do

  • Meticulosity (1950): The quality of showing extreme care and concern for details

1951 to 1975: Increasing Complexity 

National spelling bee words got harder and harder for the young spellers, year after year. And this only added to the eudaemonic delight of the winner (or co-winners) each year too.

national spelling bee winning word crustaceology 1955national spelling bee winning word crustaceology 1955
  • Insouciant (1951): Nonchalant, carefree, casually unconcerned or indifferent 

  • Vignette (1952): A brief skit or retelling of something that occurred 

  • Soubrette (1953): A young women regarded as frivolous or flirtatious 

  • Transept (1954): The part of a cross-shaped church at right angles to the long, main section

  • Crustaceology (1955): The branch of zoology that studies crustaceans like shrimp and crabs

  • Condominium (1956): An individual residential or commercial unit in a multi-unit building

  • Schappe (1957): To use a process of fermentation to remove sericin from silk

  • Syllepsis (1958): A grammatical construction where one word modifies multiple words, but agrees with only one in gender, number or case

  • Catamaran (1959): A boat with two parallel floats, propelled by sails or paddles

  • Eudaemonic (1960): Producing happiness and/or well-being

  • Smaragdine (1961): Having the color of or related to emeralds

  • Esquamulose (1962): Having smooth skin, not covered in scales

  • Equipage (1963): Equipment, furnishings or accessories

  • Sycophant (1964): A person who flatters people of wealth or influence for personal gain

  • Eczema (1965): A skin condition characterized by redness, itching and scaly lesions

  • Ratoon (1966): A shoot growing from the root of a plant that’s been cut

  • Chihuahua (1967): A small dog breed with pointed ears, originally from Mexico

  • Abalone (1968): A type of edible sea mollusk with a mother-of-pearl shell lining

  • Interlocutory (1969): A provisional decree given before a case’s final decision

  • Croissant (1970): A flaky, crescent-shaped roll or pastry of leavened dough

  • Shalloon (1971): A twilled woolen fabric used for coat linings

  • Macerate (1972): To soften or separate by soaking in a liquid

  • Vouchsafe (1973): To give or grant something either graciously or condescendingly

  • Hydrophyte (1974): A plant growing only in water or very wet earth

  • Incisor (1975): One of the front teeth of a mammal, between the canines  

1976 to 2000: An International Sensation

Even though it’s called the “national” spelling bee, the competition really is global in its scope. This really came to light toward the end of the 20th century. In 1985, 13-year-old Balu Natarajan started a trend of Indian American spelling bee champions. And in 1998, 12-year-old Jody-Anne Maxwell of Jamaica was the first non-American winner.

national spelling bee winning word chiaroscurist 1998national spelling bee winning word chiaroscurist 1998
  • Narcolepsy (1976): A neurological disorder characterized by episodes of sudden, involuntary sleep

  • Cambist (1977): An expert in trading foreign currencies

  • Deification (1978): The act of embodying the qualities of a god

  • Maculature (1979): Junk mail and other paper waste

  • Elucubrate (1980): To solve, write or compose by working long and diligently

  • Sarcophagus (1981): A stone coffin, often on display in a monumental tomb

  • Psoriasis (1982): A chronic skin disease with scaly, reddish patches

  • Purim (1983): A Jewish holiday commemorating the deliverance of the Jews by Haman

  • Luge (1984): A racing sled where the rider(s) lie face up with feet forward 

  • Milieu (1985): A person’s social setting or cultural environment

  • Odontalgia (1986): A toothache

  • Staphylococci (1987): The spherical bacteria responsible for MRSA infections

  • Elegiacal (1988): Expressing mourning and sorrow, fit for an elegy

  • Spoliator (1989): A person who plunders, pillages or robs 

  • Fibranne (1990): A spun rayon fabric often woven to resemble linen

  • Antipyretic (1991): Reducing or tending to reduce fever

  • Lyceum (1992): A hall for public lectures, discussions and entertainment

  • Kamikaze (1993): Relating to a suicide attack by Japanese pilots during World War II

  • Antediluvian (1994): Extremely old or old-fashioned, before the biblical Great Flood

  • Xanthosis (1995): A yellowing discoloration of tissues through degeneration

  • Vivisepulture (1996): The practice of burying a person alive

  • Euonym (1997): A name well suited to a person, place or thing

  • Chiaroscurist (1998): A painter who uses light and shade to create a sense of volume

  • Logorrhea (1999): Excessive talkativeness or use of words

  • Demarche (2000): A maneuver or course of action, often as a protest or warning

2001 to Present: The Modern Spelling Bee

Just as modern poets are changing how people are seeing the world, the modern era of the annual Scripps competition continues to evolve too. Co-champions are becoming more commonplace with even more esoteric spelling bee words. What does scherenschnitte mean? These words are tough!

national spelling bee winning word laodicean national spelling bee winning word laodicean
  • Succedaneum (2001): A substitute, particularly in medicine

  • Prospicience (2002): Foresight, seeing ahead or knowing in advance

  • Pococurante (2003): Indifferent or apathetic

  • Autochthonous (2004): Native to the place where found, indigenous 

  • Appoggiatura (2005): An embellishing, rhythmically strong dissonant grace note in music

  • Ursprache (2006): A reconstructed, hypothetical parent language

  • Serrefine (2007): Small forceps used for clamping an artery in surgery

  • Guerdon (2008): A reward, recompense or prize

  • Laodicean (2009): Of or related to the ancient city of Laodicea in modern day Turkey  

  • Stromuhr (2010): An instrument for measuring the velocity of blood flow

  • Cymotrichous (2011): Having wavy hair

  • Guetapens (2012): Ambush or trap

  • Knaidel (2013): A type of Jewish dumpling eaten during Passover

  • Stichomythia (2014): A form of verbal sparring with alternate lines in ancient Greek drama
    Feuilleton: A short literary essay or sketch

  • Scherenschnitte (2015): The art of cutting continuous paper designs, originating in 1500s Switzerland and Germany
    Nunatak: An isolated mountain peak or ridge protruding from a glacier’s surface

  • Feldenkrais (2016): A somatic educational system for reducing pain or movement limitations
    Gesellschaft: A hypothetical mode of society with self-serving individuals and impersonal ties

  • Marocain (2017): A heavy crepe fabric with a cross-ribbed texture

  • Koinonia (2018): Communion by intimate participation, as with the Christian church

  • Auslaut (2019): The last sound of a word or syllable
    Erysipelas: An acute infectious disease of the skin with local inflammation and fever
    Bougainvillea: Woody shrubs or vines with small flowers and large red or purple bracts
    Aiguillette: An ornamental corn hung in loops on the shoulder of certain military uniforms
    Pendeloque: A drop-shaped diamond or gem used as a pendant
    Palama: The webbing on the feet of aquatic birds
    Cernuous: Nodding, drooping, or hanging downward, as in a flower or bud
    Odylic: Of or pertaining to odes, a lyric poem honoring a person or subject

  • 2020: The 2020 Scripps National Spelling Bee was cancelled due to the pandemic.

Lists of Spelling Bee Words and Quizzes 

Has your child thrown their hat into the mix for the school spelling bee? Test their skills by reviewing an extensive list of spelling bee study words. Spelling difficult words isn’t just for kids either! Put your own lexiconic prowess to the test with words for an adult spelling bee too. 

For students between grades one and five, YourDictionary offers spelling bee quizzes as well. Print them out for homeschool, in the traditional classroom, or just for fun.

Celebrate Noteworthy Spelling Bee Champions

Now, you’ve had a chance to look over all the national spelling bee words from over the years. Next, get to know the champions who correctly spelled those challenging words. Check out our list of notable spelling bee winners. One champion went on to work as an aerospace engineer with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) at NASA! 


Michael Kwan is a professional writer and editor with over 15 years of experience. Fueled by caffeine and WiFi, he's no stranger to word games and dad jokes.

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