I was wondering whether the Scripps Spelling Bee people get their words from the same places the rest of us get our words from. So I went to their website and found this:
Official dictionary and source of words:
Webster's Third New International Dictionary and its addenda section, copyright 2002, Merriam-Webster, (Webster's Third) is the final authority for the spelling of words.
How odd that they’d answer such a simple question with such an ambiguously structured sentence. Does that mean that Merriam-Webster’s, Webster’s Third, and the addenda section of the international dictionary are one and the same – here, appositives – that are all copyright 2002? Is “Webster’s Third” a parenthetical renaming of Merriam-Webster and, if so, why is there a comma after “Merriam-Webster”? Does this mean Scripps relies on two dictionaries and, if so, why would the coordinated subject take the singular verb “is”?
I’m familiar with Merriam-Webster, it's the default dictionary of the Chicago Manual of Style. Webster’s New World College Dictionary is the default dictionary of the AP Stylebook. American Heritage, even though it doesn’t get such a nod from a major style guide, seems to rival the other two in popularity.
But Webster's Third New International Dictionary was a new one on me. I checked Amazon and learned why: It has a cover price of $129. Understandable for a huge, unabridged tome. But still, this means it’s not on most of our bookshelves. (I, for one, don’t spend that much on jewelry.)
So I thought I’d look up some spelling bee words in the dictionaries that we little people rely on. Here are some of the spelling bee words that cropped up in newspaper articles today and what I found when I looked them up in the online versions of Webster’s New World College Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, American Heritage via Dictionary.com, and Dictionary.com’s own entries (which often draw from other dictionaries):
laodicean: All four dictionaries list, offering similar definitions like “lukewarm or indifferent in religion or politics.”
ergasia: Merriam-Webster does not list the word, but offers a definition credited to Merriam-Webster’s Medical dictionary. American Heritage lists the word, its definition very similar to M-W’s: “the sum of the mental, behavioral, and physiological functions and reactions that make up an individual. Webster’s New World does not list.
kurta: M-W: yes. AH: no. Dictionary.com: yes, from its unabridged version. WNW: yes. Definition: “a knee-length, collarless shirt worn over pajamas by men in India”
or “a woman's dress resembling this shirt.”
apodyterium: M-W: no (but says it can be found its unabridged version, which users must pay to access). AH: no. Dictionary.com: yes (attributed to Webster’s Revised Abridged Dictionary. WNW: no. Definition: The apartment at the entrance of the baths, or in the palestra, where one stripped; a dressing room.
hebdomadally: All but WNW had a listing for this word, which means “weekly.” A search for hebdomadally WNW online turned up information about the word under listings for “regular” and “weekly.”
That’s better than I thought. I suspected that Scripps was acting sort of like that board game Balderdash, which, though great fun, picks some very questionable words.