To continue the Scripps-inspired theme this week, I bring you the word that won the competition. I almost bailed on doing this word because it’s not in my dictionary. (The Bee uses Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, which is a tome that I have had no good reason to lay down the money for. I haven’t used it myself, so I can’t speak to its etymologies or definitions, though I may have to give it a gander the next time I’m at the library. If anyone over at Webster is reading this, I can probably be persuaded to shamelessly plug your dictionary from time to time in exchange for a free copy. : ) When I googled the winning word, there were at least as many links to articles about the bee as there were to definitions, and certainly more words written about it in those articles than in the definition pages. So which word won?
The reason there’s not much written about this word is that there’s not much to write. It’s specific to the discipline of anthropology and means simply: “having wavy hair.” I’m cymotrichous! The breakdown, as with many field-specific words, is nothing special. It’s take straight from ancient Greek: kuma = “wave” + trich = “hair” + Latin’s -ous. It is a good study in how academic words are formed. That mish-mash of Greek and Latin is a dead giveaway that the word was made up by someone academic, although I haven’t found enough information to tell you at what point in history that academic was working. I would guess mid-1700s to early 1900s, when classification of races was an issue that occupied the minds of English scholars, but it’s just a guess.
So there you have it. How to win a spelling bee, in one simple step: learn all the really obscure academic terms.