The 2017 Spelling Bee Winning Word is 'Marocain'

Maybe you can't spell it, but you'll be better prepared if this word comes up on trivia night

This year’s winner of the Scripps National Spelling Bee is 12-year-old Ananya Vinay from Fresno, California, whose winning word, marocain spiked in lookups on June 2, 2017.

Marocain, like so many words in the final rounds of the Spelling Bee (such as heiligenschein and durchkomponiert, is an obscure word that is seldom encountered in everyday life, but is among the 490,000 or so words defined in Merriam-Webster’s online Unabridged Dictionary, the official dictionary of the Bee.

Marocain (pronounced \MAR-uh-kane\) means “a ribbed crepe fabric used in women's clothing,” and comes from the French term crêpe marocain, literally, “Moroccan crepe.” It is also given as a synonym for the color Morocco red. (Morocco is also an English word, meaning “a fine leather from goatskin tanned with sumac.”)

Marocain is an adjective in the French term but has become the noun for the fabric in English. The -ain ending is common for French adjectives, and its pronunciation when borrowed into English is not constant: another word in the Bee, quintain, is pronounced \KWIN-tin\, whereas the similar word quatrain is pronounced \KWAH-trane. The long /a/ sound might also be closer to the feminine form of this adjectival ending, -aine, which could be a speller’s trap.

French words are often the source for terms in women’s fashion, and marocain came into use in the early 20th century:

The frock called “Constantin,” sketched at the top of the page, is of white Marocain crêpe embroidered in squares of fluffy white silk called “mousse.”
Vogue, 1 Aug. 1919

A heavy toll is being laid on lace and marocain for the same, as there is nothing that more adequately expresses the graceful lines of the moment.
—M. E. Brooke, The Tatler (London, UK), 1 Jun. 1921

She holds that the correct medium should be lace, marocain, or crêpe-de-chine, and that skirts should drape to the ankles.
The Gentlewoman and Modern Life (London, UK), 29 Oct. 1921

Another dictionary connection can be made with the lyrics of the title song from the Bob Hope and Bing Crosby musical The Road to Morocco, which, with a pun conflating the North African country and the type of leather used for bookbinding, concludes with the words: “Like Webster’s Dictionary we’re Morocco bound!” We’re pretty sure Ananya is bound for great success.

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