WORDS OF THE CHAMPIONS AND PAIDEIA

A long, long time ago – but much closer than a galaxy far, far away – Scripps distributed a booklet to spellers each year entitled Words of the Champions. This booklet was the predecessor to Paideia, which itself was the predecessor to both Spell It. At that time, Words of the Champions was over 3200 words long. Roughly 1/6th of each year’s list were new words for that year. The booklet also included recent National Spelling Bee winning words as well as words that knocked out last year’s competitors. And for inspiration, pictures from the previous National Spelling Bee usually comprised the centerfold. (It always included the champion hoisting the trophy in victory, natch.) However, these words were only divided into three groups according to difficulty and placed in alphabetical order. There was nothing else upon which to hang these words. There were no groupings according to subject or etymology. Spellers had to turn to Webster’s Third New International Dictionary to get any further information on these words. This was just the status quo. Words of the Champions persisted largely unchanged for much of the latter half of the 20th century.


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In the early 1990s, though, Scripps began to consider an alternative: grouping words according to different subjects on each page. Along with this change, the booklet would be more colorful and fun. It would include more information about the top placing spellers from the previous year. And in 1995, Scripps retired Words of the Champions, and Paideia was born. It was an acknowledgment that spelling should not exclusively be about memorization – a long-standing criticism of the bee. Subjects ranged all over the place, including musical instruments, birds, tools…even words associated with the concept of “hardness.” To emphasize how books can be such a great source of words, Scripps included lists of words from classic books like The Secret Garden and Treasure Island. Not all subjects were ideal. For example, the list of elements in the periodic table, for example, was a great idea, but included some awfully arcane words. Still, Paideia as a whole improved on Words of the Champions, and took the spelling bee in a promising and refreshing new direction. Despite the fact that Spell It has replaced Paideia since 2007, copies can still be found, and it is a good, easily digestible source of words to study.

(Photo credit: Scott Isaacs)