WASHINGTON - In 1981, the word was sarcophagus. And with that, Paige Kimble became the Scripps National Spelling Bee champion.
Today, 31 years later, she is the director and she knows it takes more than memorization to advance to Thursday's championship finals.
"When you stand on stage, you're going to be asked literally anything, and you have to be prepared," says Kimble. One thing she says all the contestants have in common each year is that they are great readers.
Another key to success is learning language patterns and word roots.
"Understanding patterns of spelling in Hindu, Japanese, French, Spanish, Italian, etc. I could go on and on and on... helps you to figure out that spelling when you're on that national stage"
Although Kimble says often the toughest words are only one syllable words with only four or five letters, in the last few years some of the championship words seem to be a kind of alphabet soup.
Take a look at the word evolution through some of the previous years:
1925 - GLADIOLUS
1932 - KNACK
1948 - PSYCHIATRY
1959 - CATAMARAN
1964 - SYCOPHANT
1970 - CROISSANT
1984 - LUGE
1998 - CHIAROSCURIST
2005 - APPOGGIATURA
2011 - CYMOTRICHOUS
"Sometimes they are a bit more difficult than you saw 10, 20, 30 years ago," says Kimble. "There are more and more kids who are really putting out good efforts toward qualifying for the Bee and being in those final rounds
There is no review of old word lists according to Kimble. If a challenging word from previous years winds up back in this year's championship round, it's just happenstance.
"It's merely coincidence. Great spelling bee words are great spelling words, no matter the year."
The contest is sponsored by the E.W. Scripps Company, the parent company of 41 Action News.