Well, at least we’re not Massachusetts. Although I’m at a bit of a loss as to why so many people in Arkansas need to know how to spell “leprechaun.” Sure, there’s that St. Patrick’s Day parade (the world’s shortest) in Hot Springs, but that doesn’t really explain it (or Utah’s similar obsession with leprechauns) either.
Last week in honor of the finals in the Scripps National Spelling Bee (which, once again, ended in a tie), Google Trends released a map detailing the words whose spellings were most-searched-for by residents in each state in the past 12 months.
Winner of the ignominious “honor” of having the word most residents of the state should be able to spell but couldn’t was Massachusetts. The word? “Massachusetts.”
Arizona and New Hampshire, meanwhile, were afflicted, like Arkansas was the year before, with the inability to spell “diarrhea.” And they should probably stock up on Imodium.
“Desert” and “cancelled” were the words shared by the most states … though why California, home of the Mojave and Great Basin, has so much trouble spelling “desert” I don’t know.
The other misspelled word, though, poses a conundrum for copy editors, most of whom go by Associated Press style. Under AP style, the word is spelled “canceled.” The only double-L “cancel” word under AP guidelines is cancellation. So yeah, editors are rebels and we’ll never ever be any good. Well, except at confusing some people with our word choices.
Then again, “cancelled” is chiefly British, Australian and Canadian, while “canceled” is all-‘Murican. So there.
Another AP word that came up in the list was “gray”—and on that one, AP agrees. Still, “grey” is perfectly acceptable … just not in American publications closely following AP style.
My favorites on the list, apart from the funniness that is Massachusetts being unable to spell its own name and Alaska’s inability to spell the name of its statehood partner Hawaii, were Ohio’s “banana” and Wyoming’s “ornery.”
I’m guessing Ohioans aren’t big fans of Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl,” or they’d have no trouble spelling “banana.” In a Late Show “backstage” (read: set-up) clip, Stephen Colbert told Stefani that he had banned the song from the show because he thought “bananas” was spelled wrong in the song (it wasn’t). And he’s not even from Ohio. (Born in D.C., if you were wondering.)
As for “ornery,” it, like “persnickety,” is just fun to say. It’s the little things that can make me the happiest.
The full list: Alabama—tongue; Alaska—Hawaii; Arizona—diarrhea; Arkansas—leprechaun; California—desert; Colorado—beautiful; Connecticut—desert; Delaware—neighbor; Florida—tomorrow; Georgia—appreciate; Hawaii—boutonniere; Idaho—desert; Illinois—appreciate; Indiana—desert; Iowa—maintenance; Kansas—schedule; Kentucky—maintenance; Louisiana—definitely; Maine—vacuum; Maryland—cancelled; Massachusetts—Massachusetts; Michigan—gray; Minnesota—broccoli; Mississippi—sergeant; Missouri—pneumonia; Montana—vacuum; Nebraska—guarantee; Nevada—cousin; New Hampshire—diarrhea; New Jersey—February; New Mexico—neighbor; New York—beautiful; North Carolina—pneumonia; North Dakota—attitude; Ohio—banana; Oklahoma—gray; Oregon—definitely; Pennsylvania—cancelled; Rhode Island—cancelled, South Carolina—convenience; South Dakota—gray; Tennessee—courtesy; Texas—niece; Utah—leprechaun; Vermont—possible; Virginia—cancelled; Washington—pneumonia; West Virginia—giraffe; Wisconsin—vacuum; and Wyoming—ornery.
One could float all sorts of theories about why some states have trouble with certain words (like why does Florida, home of Disney World and its Tomorrowland attraction, seem to be unsure of how to spell “tomorrow”?), but it’s all just speculation.
But really, West Virginia, why “giraffe”? Was it because of the baby giraffe born at Hovatter’s Wildlife Zoo in late 2014, or is there some nefarious plan to use giraffes in coal mines? If it’s the latter, I don’t approve.
The states, though, were far from the only ones having trouble with their spelling. Even Google (or at least whoever designed the map graphic tweeted by Google Trends) couldn’t spell “boutonniere,” Hawaii’s most-searched word.
Just more proof that everyone needs an editor.
Google, if it were a person, probably wouldn’t last to the end of the Scripps Spelling Bee. Nihar Janga, 11, of Austin, Texas, and Jairam Hathwar, 13, of Corning, New York, did though, in the third of the competitions in a row to have co-champions. Vox’s Sarah Kliff worries this could be because American kids have become too smart for the bee.
After the last two ties, the rules were changed to make it even tougher. No matter, as the two battled through a total 39 rounds, ending with the correctly spelled “Feldenkrais” (a system of body movements that promotes flexibility and self-awareness, named after Russian-born engineer Moshe Feldenkrais) and “gesselschaft” (an association of individuals for common goals, as for entertainment, intellectual, or cultural purposes or for business reasons).
Nihar became the youngest winner ever; Jairam followed in the steps of his older brother, who was co-winner in 2014.
Those boys would have faced little competition from me, as my mouth tended to work faster than my brain when I was in spelling bees. I still have nightmares of when I said “u” instead of “w.” Believe me, I know how to spell “dawned.”
And now you know why I prefer the written word.