Why the Alphabet is so Important

The ‘f’ sound can be spelled in a variety of ways: f, ph, gh, ff, v, pf. Some of these are more mundane than others but this list is definitely not a complete list. This isn’t just limited to this one consonant sound. The ‘k’ sound can be spelled with a k, c, ch, ck, cc, cch, kh, and so on and so forth. But why are there so many different ways to spell the same sound? 

The answer lies within the alphabet. 

The modern English alphabet (the one we use with 26 letters) is a derivative of a Latin alphabet. This was originally used in Rome, however, this alphabet was based on a very visually similar alphabet utilized by the Etruscans- a civilization that was located in Italy. Prior to the Etruscans, this alphabet was actually derived from a version of the Greek alphabet used by the inhabitants of a few Greek colonies in southern Italy. In turn, the Greek alphabet was descended from the Phoenician alphabet- an alphabet that only had consonants.

File:Phoenician alphabet.svg - Wikimedia Commons
The Phoenician Alphabet and its English counterparts.

While Phoenician was based on hieroglyphics- the writing system used by the Egyptians- it had a very key difference. The letters represented sounds and not words. The other major types of writing were primarily symbolic and were far more complicated to learn. An example of a modern-day language that uses a symbolic script is Chinese, as each symbol represents a word or idea.

This marked a pivotal change in the societies that ended up incorporating variations of the Phoenician script. It became easier for the ‘common-folk’ to learn or figure out how to write with the script. The simplicity of only having 22 symbols and sounds to memorize was far easier and cheaper than either having to pay a professional to read and write for you or learning it yourself. Slowly, literacy began to improve, aided by a script that made reading and writing far easier than it had been before.

But, we still haven’t answered the question of why there are so many different ways to spell the same sound. This answer is found a few thousand years after the Phoenicians. 

All of the languages that I mentioned continued to develop through the ages and a few have stagnated or died out. Latin, however, is a very important one. At the peak of the Roman Empire, it reached all the way up to Britain, or Albion as it was known then. The Latin alphabet was used throughout Europe and to the place where it never really stuck, the Phoenician and Greek alphabets held influence. In the modern-day, almost all of the nations and languages that are spoken in Europe use a variation of the Latin Alphabet.

Western Romance languages - Wikipedia
Romance language family tree

English, though it is a Germanic language, has had great amounts of influence by both Latin and French (both of which are Romance languages.) Romance languages, despite the name, are actually languages that are descended from Latin. Among them are Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, etc. This is exemplified in the sheer number of Latin words in English (there are 4 in this sentence itself.)

As one of the most spoken languages in the world, as well as the main language of one of the nations that once was a very prolific colonizer, English has had great reach to almost all corners of the world. While the languages that are spoken in Europe share an alphabet, languages in the Americas, in India, in Japan, in Vietnam, in Thailand, etc. do not have similar alphabets at all. This creates a dichotomy where words from languages with similar alphabets are faithfully translated into English whereas more ‘exotic’ words are often simplified into their phonetic spelling in the majority of cases.

File:Origins of English PieChart.svg
Rough distribution of foreign language influence on English- a note, “Latin” includes words that are used in primarily scientific senses.

This mishmash of languages that English has cobbled together through its many years of existence is unique in the fact that it already had the infrastructure to incorporate a very different language into itself, nearly seamlessly from when Britain was invaded by the Normans. Spellings were preserved then and they remain preserved for the most part, even now. 

The motley of letter combinations that make up English are a unique effort that the language has made to preserve the original spellings of words. Without the ability of these alphabets to so quickly adapt to variety of sounds, it is very likely that English never would’ve been able to accumulate such a variety of words.

The Cost of Spelling Bees

Preparing and participating in spelling bees can take numerous hours and large amounts of money throughout the years of preparation. This often is overlooked by the population that is able to participate in spelling bee’s competitively because it is a truth that they are overwhelmingly a part of higher than average socioeconomic classes.

While some people will cite that other activities can be drains for money and that nobody seems to care that they cost a lot- sports and music being examples- this is not about those activities. Words and languages are things that should be widely accessible to those that wish to learn about them. And the fact that other activities cost more money is a form of whataboutism that doesn’t do anything to account for the disparities in education that differing income levels can yield.

According to an article by TIME, a Utah survey reported that parents spend about $2,300 on sports an year. This is a relevant statistic. Barring lacrosse and hockey, the maximum amount spent on a sport was about $6,000-$9,000. The average cost of a music lesson is about $50-$80 dollars, according to this website. The average musician doesn’t have too high costs to purchase a singular instrument. Both of these are lower than the average cost of a lesson for a speller.

I believe that the ability to pay in order to receive a higher standard of learning is something that acts as a roadblock to those that are not able to access the same resources and that it is important that this issue be addressed.

While it is a little difficult to identify the cost of spelling accurately for everyone, I have done my best to provide an estimate. All of these numbers are as accurate as possible and they will vary depending on whether a student is coached or not.

Cost of Coaching
I chose to exclude the names of individual coaches but I have instead included them as numbers. These numbers were all found online through search engines and are as accurate as the websites that I found them on.

From a vast amount of research here are the rates of some coaches that I was able to find.

$215/hour (14 coaches)
$100/hour (2 coaches)

Average: $150
Median: $215

$75/hour (2 coaches)
$50/hour (2 coaches)
$25/hour (2 coaches)

Range: $25-$215

A small note, the cost of coaching from any one person does not at all correlate to the quality of coaching service.

The table below represents a weekly schedule of one class using the average cost per hour of coaching ($150) in a continuous year of coaching. I will approximate 50 weeks of coaching (allowing for vacations as well as missed lessons)

Years1 Coach/student2 Coaches/student
1 year$7,500$15,000
2 years$15,000$30,000
3 years$22,500$45,000
4 years$30,000$60,000
5 years$37,500$75,000
Average cost of coaching (may vary depending on coach)

While most people do have one coach- and not all spellers will be paying $150- it is in the ballpark range of how much coaching can cost a family. While I’m not disparaging either those that choose to go this route in terms of the amount they charge or even those that choose to pay, I want to call attention to the fact that spellers that are not able to pay these fees are often unable to keep up.

To those that may say that coaching is unnecessary- this is a patently untrue statement in the majority of cases. Spelling bees require a large investment of time and discipline, and it is difficult for young children to achieve this on their own. Parents that may have long work schedules are not able to provide the hours to aid students.

In this day and age, as spelling bees have grown increasingly competitive and the word difficulty has skyrocketed, many people rightfully feel that coaches are necessary to guide them in achieving their goals.

The Cost of Preparatory Material
The next cost that I have factored in is (sometimes) one off costs for preparatory materials as sifting through all 476,000+ words of the dictionary is a daunting task for anyone. These aid students in preparing for spelling bees by guiding them towards wordlists that are specifically honed. Some of these I have used, and others I haven’t used, but I’m mostly angling for an estimate.

Words of Wisdom: $46.00
Unabridged Dictionary: $30 per year
Blitz: $79 x3
Ementor: $219*
New Nat’s: $175 x4
Ementor: $219*
Verbomania: $99 x3
Words from the Champs: $30.00
How to Spell Like a Champ: $11.60
SpellPundit Annual Fee: $600
*Not factored into cost

The Cost of Preparatory Material

50 + (30*5) + 80*3 + 175*4 + 100*3 + 35 + 12 + 600*5= $4,500 (approximately)
Again, not everyone is paying this much, but the sheer cost of preparatory material is another barrier that impedes those that are unable to pay for them.

The Cost of Nationals
Now that you’ve got to Nationals, the costs don’t end there. While you can stay at nearby hotels, the cost of transportation makes up for the money saved and hotels in the region will often cost similar enough amounts.

Cost of Attending Nationals:
$400 per night (generally 5 nights)
$30 in food per day
$250 in travel per person
$60 with each additional member of the family for events
$125 for the banquet dinner
$100 in miscellaneous costs

400*5 + 30*5 + 250*4 + 60*2 + 125 + 100 = around $3200

Barring, if you did choose to RSVBee to participate at Nationals, there is an additional cost (which, once again is a barrier to low income students that want to participate in nationals)

RSVBee: $1500

A caveat, many qualifying spelling bees do pay some amount of money, but this is rarely consistent. This doesn’t account for those that qualify through the RSVBee program.

In summary, the cost of spelling bees are a barrier that disallow students that are unable to pay these amounts to receive equal opportunities in spelling bees. Even if one ignores the cost of coaching (perhaps 3 years of one coach- 22.5k), each visit to Scripps can cost upwards of 3,000 dollars.

However, for many, the costs often are outweighed by the benefits of coaching and the results that it can yield. This a not a piece claiming that either the coaching system is bad or that I am disparaging it- it is merely to bring attention to the fact that such obstacles do exist.

Word Lists + Any Way That I can Feasibly Help
I will admit that I have been able to afford coaching and materials as well as attending Scripps without any significant worry for the cost of them.

I want to make Spelling Bees and preparation more accessible for students that may not be able to afford such exorbitant costs for numerous materials. I will be taking commissions for generating wordlists as long as they are not too excessive and not too frequent at absolutely no cost. They will be posted up on my website as I receive requests. The guidelines are below. You can reach out to me through my email: siyona39@gmail.com or through the contact form on this website.

Guidelines for Requesting a Word List (please follow these so that I will be able to complete them)

– Describe the topic in as much detail as you would like and you will receive a word list with an equal amount of detail (ex: Latin words, flower words, words with roots in them, medical words, animal words)

-Indicate the level of difficulty you want them to be (School Level, County Level, Regional Level, National Level, Night Finals+)

– I will be generating lists up to 100 words.

– They will strictly be words only. I will not be providing definitions etc.

-Expect a turnaround time of a week from when I respond to the request.

Furthermore, feel free to reach out to me if you want any free resources such as Paideia, CWL, Root Word lists, etc. if you have been unable to find them.

Online Spelling Bees

This is a statement that I didn’t think that I would really ever be saying other than a few mock spelling bees that I had participated and hadn’t ever gotten closure on because they died out.

However, to the disappointment of many, many major spelling bees have been either outright canceled (Scripps National Spelling Bee) or postponed indefinitely (South Asian Spelling Bee). It certainly is understandable, with everything that’s going on right now. That, however, doesn’t change the fact that it is really unfortunate that many spellers aren’t getting the opportunity to experience those spelling bees.

The loss of a spelling bee is more than not being able to compete in a competition and not getting a trophy. It’s the loss of an experience that lasts beyond the week at Gaylord. It’s the loss of years of work and hours put into learning. It’s the friendships that remain even when people are hundreds of miles apart. It is true that the skills and knowledge gained can’t be taken away from the spellers that have worked so hard but that doesn’t change the fact they aren’t able to put it to use in that one singular event.

Spellers are prepared to lose, to get that one word that they don’t know or can’t figure out, to get nervous on stage and to have the jitters. Those are all almost expected, and there are things that can be done to help work around those. This pandemic and the cancellation of something seen as almost a constant (almost 60 continuous years of Scripps) have blindsided a lot of people.

Online spelling bees are a small step towards that sense of closure in terms of spelling and it is commendable what people have come up with. I’d like to congratulate all of the spellers that participated in the Spell Pundit bee and I thought that it was run rather well. However, it is very difficult to recreate that same environment, those same amazing feelings of just seeing so many people like you and getting to know people from all over the world.

Other than the fact that that a bee is wholly online, there are a few more issues as well. There of course is the issue of cheating during those bees and it is startlingly easy to come up with methods that could be employed to give a speller an easy way out. However, I don’t believe that this is going to be much of an issue going forwards. There’s quite literally nothing to be gained by cheating during a spelling bee so I think it makes a lot of arguments against online spelling bees essentially moot.

Postponements Galore

Now, unless you’ve been living under a rock, whether it is literal or figurative, you’ve probably heard of this little virus called Covid-19. It’s caused probably the most cancellations around the US and the world. For everyone out there, stay safe and wash your hands!

For spelling, this means a lot. Around the country, spelling bee- from regionals to counties- have been overwhelmingly postponed. A lot of these dates have moved to Early March or Late April (I’ll try to get a comprehensive list but you all should hopefully know by now)

It is slightly worrying for the 2020 Spelling Bee season but I think that there is a decent chance that Scripps will be postponed (hello, at the very minimum 200+ people in a room for a round? I don’t think so). Hopefully that will lead to a postponement and not a cancellation but as many other comparable competitions including but not limited to Geo Bee, Science Olympiad and much more have chosen to do.

It definitely doesn’t feel nice to not be able to show off all the hard work we’ve put in throughout the year but it is important to remember that everyone’s health does come first.

The update on the Scripps official page for Covid-19 is a little outdated as gatherings over 10 are now not recommended. I will be keeping an eye on the situation.

Updates (As of March 16th) : The Bee and The E.W. Scripps Company are closely monitoring the recommendations of local, state and federal agencies regarding COVID-19. While many final local spelling bees have already been completed, those still outstanding will most likely be postponed based on current guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding cancellation of events of 50 or more people over the next eight weeks. We are in the process of determining what impact these latest guidelines will have on the national finals scheduled for May. 


There’s all sorts of weather on this planet. From torrential downpours to winds that dance across desert sand etching designs unaltered by humans. From light drizzly rain droplets delicately descending from the heavens to waves that wash over everything in their path, we’ve come up with just as many words to describe all of these.


Blowdown– a storm that quite literally blows over trees and cars
Brickfielder– This word is chiefly used in Australia as it a dust storm that originates from the brick fields near Sydney
Elephanta– Interestingly this is an East Indian storm that occurs near a monsoon. It is related to elephants but through the fact that the elephant is the symbol of the Hindu 13th lunar month which is the prime time for such storms to occur.
Haboob– Arabic for a violent wind
Kona– Hawaiian word for a storm of southerly winds and heavy rains
Tufan– this is related to typhoon and is a violent storm that occurs in India
Williwaw– a sudden violent gust of cold land air

Root Words from Round 5 of the Scripps National Spelling Bee Morning Finals

hendiadys – hen/dia/dys (two)
pyrheliometer – pyr/helio/meter
ornithicnite -ornith/icnite
lychnoscope – lychno/scope
cheiloplasty – cheilo/plasty
tessellar -tessell/ar
amphisbaena – amphis/baena
parergal – parerg/al
chorea – chor/ea
periphyton – peri/phyt/on
propositus – pro/posit/us
imbrex – im/brex
aichmophobia – aichmo/phobia
flocculus – floccul/us (Akeelah and the Bee throwback)
bombycine – bombyc/ine
oxyrhynch – oxy/rhynch
cyclazocine – cycla/zocine
opisthograph – opistho/graph
erythematous -ery/thema/tous
pteronarcid – ptero/narc/id
exuviae – ex/uviae
terebinthinate – terebinth/in/ate
diaeresis – dia/eresis
neossoptile – ne/osso/ptile

Root Words Galore in the Morning Finals- Round 4 Edition

compurgator – com/purgat/or
anastylosis – ana/styl/osis
fissiped – fissi/ped
rhynchophorous – rhyncho/phor/ous
nosology – nos/ology
myelopoiesis – myelo/poiesis
tachyglossid – tachy/gloss/id
epicedium – epi/ced/ium
gliocyte – glio/cyte
basileus – basi/leus (think basilisk)
morigeration – moriger/ation
rescissory – re/sciss/ory
ergodic – erg/odic
tetranychid – tetr/anych (weird form of onych)/id
ornis – orni
unguis -ungui
cyclamen – cycl/amen
emblema – emblem/a
planirostral – plani/rostr/al
gnotobiotic – gnoto/bio/tic
doraphobia – dora/phobia
frontogenesis -front/o/genesis
ichthyophagi – ichthyo/phagi
propylon – pro/pylon
nuchal – nuch/al
postil – post/il
caducous – caduc/ous
pelargic – pelarg/ic
atrament – atra/ment
eloge – e/loge (logos)
ptarmic -ptarm/ic
castaneous – castan/eous
empyreumatic – em/pyreuma/tic
cerium – cer(es)/ium
praseodymium – praseo/dym/ium
butyraldehyde – butyr/aldehyde
pilosebaceous – pilo/seb/aceous
vibratiuncle – vibrati/uncle

2019 Scripps National Spelling Bee- Preliminaries to Morning Finals

Just this afternoon, a record was set for the second highest preliminary test score required to pass on to the second stage of the Scripps National Spelling Bee. Spellers had to score at least 24 on the written test and spell all of their onstage words correctly during Rounds 2 and 3 correctly. The only time that the score was higher was back in 2013. With a larger group of spellers, it’s almost expected that the score should rise for qualifying into the morning finals. The finalists toed the line with exactly 50 spellers qualifying. If one more speller had gotten a score of 30, the qualifying score would have bumped up to 31.

However, this score is a reflection of the trend towards the usage of more and more online study tools which allow spellers to grow in skill and knowledge almost exponentially. The process of preparing of spelling bees has become more streamlined and in a sense more accessible hence the overall increase in scores. I think that this year is just the beginning of a new trend if Scripps doesn’t increase the difficulty of their tests.

This just seems to show how important it is to have a strong vocabulary in preparation for nationals, which I believe is a pretty good thing. After all, words are important because of their definitions first and foremost. Vocab likely was the primary determinant for the spellers that qualified for the semifinals.

The batch of finalists is quite stacked this year with many returners from last year and many up and coming spellers. The morning finals tomorrow may have some difficulty whittling down the spellers to 12 and may end up taking more than that to night finals once again. Either way, tomorrow certainly is going to be quite the interesting bee to watch.

2019 Scripps National Spelling Bee- Preliminary Written Round

So, quick breakdown of the format is 12 Offlist spelling questions, then 12 vocabulary questions followed by two more vocabulary questions.


  1. Grok (Literary term from Stranger in a Strange Land)
  2. Dissilient (Latin!)
  3. Sciapodous (Greek! Scia= Shadow + Pod= foot. I believe in one of the Chronicles of Narnia books there was a bunch of dwarve-like beings that had the one foot and used it as an umbrella/shade)
  4. Rucervine (Latin again? Rusa + Cervus= Rucervus (deer))
  5. Epollicate (Another Latin! E= without + Pollex= thumb)
  6. Indiscerptible (Latin once more In= not+ discerpere= tear apart)
  7. Sobornost (Russian)
  8. Passim (Latin, seriously?
  9. Avoirdupois (French- Avoir du Pois it’s pretty standard)
  10. Zuppa Inglese (Italian yum!)
  11. Diel (Latin- It’s the last finally. Di/a= day)
  12. Ljubljana (Of course they needed one Geo word from Yugoslavia)
Summary: 6 Latin Words, 1 Greek, 1 French, 1 Italian, 1 Literary, 1 Russian, 1 Geographical
There were a lot more Latin words than I thought there would be and a lot less Greek works than I expected. This list was 75% Romance Language words!!
  1. Flak- criticism (slang!)
  2. Restive- fidgety (This was a trick question!)
  3. Exculpatory- vindicate (ex= remove, culp= blame)
  4. Raise Cain- to cause a commotion (Scripps even tweeted about this! Biblical references/slang)
  5. Ailurophile- lover of cats, has a bunch of kittens (ailuro= cats, phile= love)
  6. Megillah- long involved story (Some Biblical references just like 4/slang)
  7. Pyrosis- heartburn (pyr= fire, osis= condtion)
  8. Haymaker- punch (this is a bit slangy)
  9. Cyclopean- massive, huge (Greek myths!)
  10. Tritaph- tomb with 3 chambers (Tri= three+ taph= tomb, think epitaph)
  11. Manque- unsuccessful, frustrated (manquer= to lack)
  12. Dianoia- opiniona (dia= through, noia (noos)- to think/mind)
Summary: 2 Latin, 5 Greek, 1 French, 3 Slang,  1 Yiddish/Hebrew
The amount of Greek in this round made up for the others. And also, are we seeing a trend towards the inclusion of more slang/literary terms?
  1. Verso- left handed side (Latin, page being turned)
  1. Dromomania- wandering (Greek, dromo= run, wander, mania= obsession with)


The preliminary test was a bit on the easier side this year so I’m predicting a cutoff around 26-28 overall.