Spelling bee winner far from 'lugubrious'

04:55, Oct 18 2014
George Sabonadiere
UNDERDOG: National Spelling Bee winner George Sabonadiere prepared for the competition by reading and testing himself on about 15 pages of the dictionary a day.

Dunedin teenager George Sabonadiere has been crowned this year's National Spelling Bee champion.

The 13-year-old Logan Park High School student overcame the vocabularies of 15 other year nine and 10 students at the national finals in Wellington today.

He managed to stay cool while his fellow wordsmiths tripped up on words such as ''lugubrious'' (looking or sounding sad and dismal) and ''apocryphal'' (a statement or claim of dubious authenticity).

After 12 rounds of some of the trickiest terms from the deepest, darkest corners of the dictionary, George found himself in the final pairing with Russell Eskildsen from Massey High School in Auckland.

Both appeared unfazed by the glare the of the lights and the tension in the audience.

But when Russell tripped up on the word ''toreador'' (the Latin word for bullfighter) George had no issues spelling ''eugenics'' (the study of improving the quality of the human race through selective breeding).


Afterwards, George said it felt amazing to win given he registered one of the lowest scores the written test students needed to pass earlier in the year to qualify for the competition.

''I felt like the underdog coming in,'' he said.  ''I got a bit lucky near the start with some of my words. A lot of people got some pretty tricky ones.''

George also found himself at the centre of perhaps the most controversial moment of the afternoon.

When a fellow competitor was ejected for misspelling the word ''aplomb'' George protested the judges to give him another shot, claiming the MC's pronunciation of the word was off the mark.

''That would have definitely knocked me off my stride a bit,'' he said. ''I wanted to win but I wanted to win fairly, and I didn't see that as being particularly fair.''

George prepared for the finals by reading and testing himself on about 15 pages of the dictionary each day, which equated to about 300 to 400 words.

Organiser Janet Lucas said it was the toughest spelling bee she had seen in her ten years of organising the event.

''I can honestly say this one was truly at a different level. The words that they were spelling were amazing.'' she said.

''I had moments where I thought I was going to run out of words.''

As national champion, George took home $5000 to be put towards his education.


Unenviable (adjective) - difficult, undesirable, or unpleasant.

Ochre (noun) - a natural earth pigment ranging in color from yellow to brown

Weevil (noun) - a type of beetle

Charisma (noun) - attractiveness or charm that grant influence over large numbers of people

Mendacity (noun) - untruthfulness

Ameliorate (verb) - to make something more satisfactory

Ethereal (adjective) - extremely delicate

Proliferate (verb) - to grow rapidly in number

Ambidextrous (adjective) - able to use both hands equally well

Synchronicity (noun) -  two or more unrelated events occurring together in a meaningful way

Blasphemous (adjective) - sacrilegious against God or sacred things

Eugenics (noun) - the study of improving the quality of the human race through selective breeding