You can take this oubliette and, uh, spell it

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Curious Capitalist Jr. has asked me to write a post about his friend’s older brother, Paul Lindseth, who made it to the quarterfinals of the 80th Scripps National Spelling Bee today before meeting his Waterloo in the word “oubliette.” Which apparently means “a concealed dungeon having a trap door in the ceiling as its only opening.” What’s up with that?

Clearly, the kids who make it to National Spelling Bee can spell every arguably English word in existence. So the organizers have to search the weird fringes of the dictionary for words like oubliette and another big dream-smasher today, “Bewusstseinslage.” I speak German reasonably well and I barely know what that means. Plus, it’s really spelled Bewußtseinslage. This is un-American, people! It’s Wahnsinn!

In other CC Jr. news, I can report that he (sort of) got the joke of an Onion story for the first time today (“I Believe in Evolution, Except for the Whole Triassic Period“) and that he proposed an excellent new advertising tagline for Citibank (“Citibank: Come get your money”). I’m so proud.

Update: In the comments, alert reader Henri Tournyol du Clos points me to the Wikipedia entry on the German Spelling Reform of 1996, which decrees that the ß is now used only after long vowels, and the AP Germany confirms that the “u” in Bewusstsein does not count as a long vowel. Another interesting thing I learned from that Wikipedia page was that my boss, Rick Stengel, is apparently misspelling his last name:

Vowel changes, especially ä for e, are to be made to conform with derived or otherwise close forms

* Stengel → Stängel (stalk) because of Stange (bar)

Update 2: Time.com is all over this National Spelling Bee story, with a then-and-now gallery of past winners.

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