Contrary to what you may think, the adult spelling bee gets its name from the age restriction, not the type of words. For some reason, spelling bees are widely regarded as being for children. Not so, in my experience. Here are some I have had fun at.
Seattle Spelling Bee
This event was founded by Benjamin Williams and Josh Malamy at the Re-Bar during 2006-8. Johnathan Kyu and others took up the baton and continued the bee at Jillian’s until early 2013. This monthly bee started with a written spelling test to reduce the field to around a dozen, followed by spelling at the microphone. I won one in 2012; my favorite word that night was bezzle: “to drink excessively.” What I liked best about the Seattle Spelling Bee was getting to take home the words we spelled correctly on small cards with the definition on the back. The one I am still saving in my living room is devall: “to sink; to decline.” The prize was generally getting your bar tab paid for.
Bee at PubWest 2018 in Pasadena, CA
This was held on a pleasant hotel rooftop, and drinks were served. Since many publishing professionals do not work on the editorial side, competition was not steep—perhaps it could be termed lax? But no, the other spellers were generally quite nervous. I was one of the top two spellers. Prizes were books donated by other PubWest publishers.
Bee at the 2019 ACES conference in Providence, RI
I paid my entry fee expecting no prize, because it is a fund-raiser for their education fund, which mostly offers scholarships for college students to attend the annual conference of ACES: The Society for Editing (see “A Long-time Member’s First ACES Conference” on the Northwest Editors Guild website for my report). Although there was a bar in the back of the room, very little drinking went on. This was serious. My words included perjink and rheumatologist. Sorry, I can’t remember any more of them. We were not allowed to write anything down, nor would they share the word list at the end. Two rounds were of Scottish words that none of us ever use. The three judges were Peter Sokolowski of Merriam-Webster, lexicographer extraordinaire Kory Stamper, and AP Stylebook Lead Editor Paula Froke. I won first place, with former champion Kate Karp and Melissa D. Hellman taking second and third, respectively. AP Lingofy, the sponsor, provided amazing prizes from Apple (an iPad Pro for me!), Merriam-Webster (a red cap and a #WordsMatter tote bag), a trophy, and Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries, by Kory Stamper.
Other spelling bees
In my research I have found that the AARP National Spelling Bee seems to have vanished without a trace, and the Austin Chronicle bee is currently on hiatus. The Northwest Editors Guild’s biennial conference often includes one, but I’m not sure whether this year’s “Voice and Voices” Red Pencil conference on September 21 will. Maybe I should get involved in making sure it does? But one spelling bee I would definitely like to try is coming up in March 2020 in Long Beach, CA, with words read by my new friend Kate Karp. See adultspellingbee.com for more. Do you know about any others? Let me know in the comments.