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13 Words That Knocked Out Spelling Bee Finalists

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The 87th Annual Scripps National Spelling Bee ended in a draw! Sriram Hathwar (right) and Ansun Sujoe are the first co-champions since 1962. If this year's Bee inspires you to brush up on your spelling, here are some words that have knocked out recent runners-up.

1. Schwarmerei, 2012 & 2004.

Note to future contestants: Learn the correct spelling of this German origin noun, which means excessive sentimentality, as it has knocked out two contestants in the final round in the past decade. One was 13-year-old Akshay Buddiga in 2004, who had famously fainted on stage only to get back up and correctly spell “alopecoid” earlier in the competition.

2. Sorites, 2011.

Concluding that there was a “p” at the beginning of this noun, which is a type of argument that has several successive premises leading to one conclusion, was the undoing of Canadian Laura Newcombe.

3. Terribilita, 2010.

An expression of intense anger or emotion, particularly in the conception or execution of a work of art. (Or the losing of a spelling competition? Three students tied for second place in 2010.)

4. Rhytidome, 2010.

The outermost layer of the bark of a tree.

5. Ochidore, 2010.

A little-used word for a shore crab. “Crustacean” would have been so much easier!

6. Menhir, 2009.

An upright stone or monolith, typically of prehistoric origin, knocked one contestant down in 2009.

7. Maecenas, 2009.

A patron of the arts, and nemesis to 12-year-old Tim Ruiter, who tied for second place in 2009.

8. Prosopopoeia, 2008.

A figure of speech in which an imaginary or absent person is speaking or acting caused 12-year-old first-timer Sidharth Chand to disappear in 2008.

9. Coryza, 2007.

A contagious disease affecting the upper respiratory tract. Damn those colds!

10. Weltschmerz, 2006.

A state of depression or apathy as a result of accepting the actual state of the world as opposed to an idealized version. Yep, sounds about right.  

11. Roscian, 2005.

An adjective used to describe a skilled actor, a tribute to Roman actor Quintus Roscius Gallus, who died in 62 BC. Like a pre-Julian Philip Seymour Hoffman.

12. Trouvaille, 2004.

Californian Aliya Deri didn’t consider this word—meaning windfall—much of a lucky break when it landed her in second place in 2004.

13. Gnathonic, 2003.

The “g” is silent in this adjective (which means fawning or obsequious), which explains its unfortunate omission in eighth-grader Evelyn Blacklock’s spelling of it in the final round.

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language
How to Say Merry Christmas in 26 Different Languages
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“Merry Christmas” is a special greeting in English, since it’s the only occasion we say “merry” instead of “happy.” How do other languages spread yuletide cheer? Ampersand Travel asked people all over the world to send in videos of themselves wishing people a “Merry Christmas” in their own language, and while the audio quality is not first-rate, it’s a fun holiday-themed language lesson.

Feel free to surprise your friends and family this year with your new repertoire of foreign-language greetings.

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Big Questions
What’s the Difference Between a Gift and a Present?
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It’s that time again when we’re busy buying, wrapping, and giving them. Sometimes we call them gifts, sometimes presents. Is there a difference?

The words come to us from different language families. Gift comes from the old Germanic root for “to give.” It referred to an act of giving, and then, to the thing being given. In Old English it meant the dowry given to a bride’s parents. Present comes from the French for "to present." A present is the thing presented or bestowed. They were both in use for the idea of something undergoing a transfer of possession without expectation of payment from the 13th century onward.

The words gift and present are well-matched synonyms that mean essentially the same thing, but even well-matched synonyms have their own connotations and distinctive patterns of use. Gift applies to a wider range of situations. Gifts can be talents. You can have the gift of gab, or a musical gift. Gifts can be intangibles. There is the gift of understanding or the gift of a quiet day. We generally don’t use present for things like this. Presents are more concrete. A bit more, well, present. If your whole family gave donations to your college fund for your birthday would you say “I got a lot of presents”? It doesn’t exactly sound wrong, but since you never hold these donations in your hand, gifts seems to fit better.

Gift can also be an attributive noun, acting like an adjective to modify another noun. What do you call the type of shop where you can buy presents for people? A gift shop. What do you call the basket of presents that you can have sent to all your employees? A gift basket. Present doesn’t work well in this role of describing other nouns. We have gift boxes, gift cards, and gift wrap, not present boxes, present cards, and present wrap.

Gift appears to be more frequent than present, though it is difficult to get accurate counts, because if you compare occurrences of the noun present with the noun gift, you include that other noun present, meaning the here and now. However, the plural noun presents captures only the word we want. Gifts outnumbers presents in the Corpus of Contemporary American English by four to one.

Still, according to my personal sense of the words, present—though it may not be as common—is more casual sounding than gift. I expect a child to ask Santa for lots and lots of presents, not many, many gifts. But whether it’s gifts or presents you prefer, I wish you many and lots this year, of both the tangible and intangible kind.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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