Freshmen Spell For IM Points in Bee

Sharon Kim

Freshmen wait for the opportunity to showcase spelling prowess at the Queen’s Head Pub yesterday during the first-year spelling bee.

Most Harvard students have never heard the words “solipsism,” “fantoccini,” or “einkorn,” but two-time Scripps National Spelling Bee contestant Jack A. Ausick ’13 spelled them flawlessly last night at the second annual Freshman Spelling Bee.

After seven rounds of competition at the Cambridge Queen’s Head, Ausick defeated 21 freshmen with the spelling of “zydeco,” a popular type of music from southern Louisiana featuring washboards and accordions. As his prize, Ausick took home $100 and 100 intramural points for his dorm, Greenough.

Colin Zwanziger ’13 of Wigglesworth and Julie M. Zauzmer ’13, a Crimson news editor of Straus, came in second and third, respectively.

“I like the interesting words,” Ausick said of spelling bees. “I just like the relationship with language you get from studying it.”

The Freshman Dean’s Office, which hosted the event, hopes to introduce more non-athletic intramural activities in the future, such as Guitar Hero competitions or trivia tournaments, said Katie W. Steele, the Director for Freshman Programming.


Before the competition began, the contestants—comprising a mix of spelling bee veterans and untrained novices—rifled through enormous dictionaries, quizzing each other on esoteric words.

“I won state in seventh grade, but that’s when you’re a little kid and can soak up everything like a sponge,” said Brooke R. Lee ’13 of Canaday.

Ellie L. Hylton ’13 of Wigglesworth said before the competition that she expected her peers to have an excellent command of the English language.

“I’m extremely nervous, but I have nothing to lose,” Hylton said. “My goal is just to make it through the first round.”

Hylton ended up breezing through the first two rounds but tripped up on “oud.”

All the contestants easily passed the first round, rattling off words like “leotard” and “samurai.”

But the freshmen started dropping off during the third round, as a string of words including “rejoneador,” “concupiscent,” and “schnauzer” left many befuddled.

The audience also became increasingly vocal as the competition escalated. One zealous spectator expressed his disbelief when his friend was asked to spell “jabot,” pronounced jah-BO.

“What did [the emcee] say? Jai ho?” he asked, to the audience’s amusement.

The event was organized by last year’s winner Athena L. Lao ’12 and former National Spelling Bee champion George A. Thampy ’10.

Thampy, who was featured in the 2002 documentary “Spellbound,” said that he does not believe spelling is an innate talent, but rather a skill that can be developed by studying etymology and linguistics.

“I love the eclecticism of the English language and how it’s showcased in a unique way,” Thampy said. “I learned more from the National Spelling Bee than from anything else I’ve done.”

—Julie R. Barzilay can be reached at


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