Quiz: Can you define these 13 words?

This year, contestants in the Scripps National Spelling Bee need to define the obscure words they spell. Could you do it? Take our quiz.

Last week, spelling bee officials announced that for the first time, multiple-choice vocabulary tests will be added to the annual Scripps National Spelling Bee. That means contenders in the 2013 bee will now need to define these obscure words in addition to spelling them.

A speller’s qualification for the semifinals and finals will be based on onstage spelling, computer-based spelling questions, and computer-based vocabulary questions. The vocabulary evaluation will count for 50 percent of the speller’s score.

Spelling bee Executive Director Paige Kimble told the Associated Press that “the changes were driven by the desire to reinforce the competition’s purpose—to encourage students to improve their spelling and broaden their knowledge of the language.”

In the spirit of broadening our knowledge of the language, I offer the following list of the winning words from 2000 to 2012 national spelling bees. See if you can come up with the correct definitions.

1. Demarche (winning word from 2000)

a) a petty, unimportant thing
b) a political step or initiative
c) a formal agreement, covenant
d) a boundary

2. Succedaneum
(winning word from 2001)

a) in ancient Rome, a cloth for wiping sweat from the face
b) a shallow grove
c) a dark-red gum obtained from certain tropical plants
d) a substitute, especially for a medicine or drug

3. Prospicience (winning word from 2002)

a) seeing ahead; knowing in advance; foreseeing
b) to block or obstruct
c) threatening
d) a sign or warning of a future event

4. Pococurante (winning word from 2003)

a) any of various thick, sticky substances produced in certain plants
b) apathetic, indifferent, or nonchalant
c) of or provoking controversy
d) covered with pocks or pockmarks

5. Autochthonous (winning word from 2004)

a) to be self-educated
b) perishable
c) native, indigenous
d) derived from the same organism or one of its parts

6. Appoggiatura (winning word from 2005)

a) a grace note performed before a note of the melody and falling on the beat
b) a nocturnal, tree-dwelling carnivore of Central Asia
c) an abandoning of what was once believed in
d) an incidental right or privilege attached to some thing and passing with it, as by inheritance or sale

7. Ursprache (winning word from 2006)

a) a person who mars or spoils plans by officious interference
b) a region with many lakes in northeast Germany
c) of a town, urban
d) the common ancestor of the languages that form a language family

8. Serrefine (winning word from 2007)

a) a thin, mesh like fabric
b) a small forceps for clamping a blood vessel
c) a wish or desire
d) an ornamental garden area in which the flower beds and path form a pattern

9. Guerdon (winning word from 2008)

a) manure of sea birds; any natural fertilizer
b) any of various the European diving ducks
c) foolish talk, nonsense
d) a reward

10. Laodicean (winning word from 2009)

a) lukewarm or indifferent to religion or politics
b) not likely to fail
c) a condition of uncertainty; doubt
d) father of Priam and founder of Troy

11. Stromuhr (winning word from 2010)

a) to ward off or deflect
b) a device designed to measure the amount and speed of blood flow through an artery
c) to divide into parts; section
d) to anticipate with anxiety or dread

12. Cymotrichous (winning word from 2011)

a) phosphorescent
b) pressed close or flat against a surface
c) division into three parts, elements, or groups
d) having wavy hair

13. Guetapens (winning word from 2012)

a) a small shrub grown in New Mexico and Texas
b) the part of a shaft that revolves in a bearing
c) ambush, snare, trap
d) the system of patronage in communist countries

When I was putting this post together, I knew the definitions of only two of these words (cymotrichous and Laodicean.) How did you do? The answers are at the bottom of the page.


1. b; 2. d; 3. a; 4. b; 5. c; 6. a; 7. d; 8. b; 9. d; 10. a; 11. b; 12. d; 13. c

Laura Hale Brockway is an Austin-based medical writer and editor.

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