The Buzz on Spelling Bees

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For Merriam-Webster’s website, Peter Sokolowski details the history of spelling bees and the etymology of the term itself:

This kind of spelling duel was carried over to America, and Benjamin Franklin himself recommended the practice in 1750, with the addition of a prize given to the victor: “a pretty neat Book of some Kind useful in their future studies.”

A pretty neat Book!

Although the phrase “spelling bee” provides all sorts of opportunities for delightful apian puns, some of the other names people have used sound a bit more badass. Who wouldn’t want to vanquish an opponent in a “spelldown”?


Lauren O'Neal is an MFA student at San Francisco State University. Her writing has appeared in publications like Slate, The New Inquiry, and The Hairpin. You can follow her on Twitter at @laureneoneal. More from this author →