The Spelling Bee



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A spelling bee is a competition in which contestants are asked to spell a broad selection of words, usually with a varying degree of difficulty. To compete, contestants must memorize the spellings of words as written in dictionaries, and recite them accordingly. The concept is thought to have originated in the United States, and is almost exclusive to the English language.

Historically, the word “bee” has been used to describe a get-together for communal work, like a husking bee, a quilting bee, or an apple bee. Why was it referred to as a “bee”? The word bee probably comes from the dialectal “been” meaning "help given by neighbors". This in tern originated from Middle English’s “bene”, meaning "prayer", "boon" or "extra service by a tenant to his lord".

Spelling bees became widespread across the United States during the 19th century, as a way to motivate students to learn standardized spelling. These spelling bees were usually held within individual schools and towns, and were not nationally organized. Soon after the dawn of the 20th century, the "first national spelling bee" was held. Marie Bolden, a young Black student from Cleveland, was named the first champion in 1908.