Saturday, May 07, 2011


We held the annual Senior Citizen Spelling Bee in Traverse City yesterday, and the words (blindly chosen from a container) ranged from guile, eighth, and feral, to irascible, meretricious, and kohlrabi.

One of the interesting words was overweening, defined as, “Of a person, etc.: having unreasonably high expectations or an excessively high opinion of oneself; excessively self-confident; arrogant, presumptuous, self-opinionated.” [OED]

The team that drew the word misspelled it as overweaning, influenced by the word wean—to accustom a child or young animal to the loss of its mother’s milk. Figuratively, wean means to separate a person from some pursuit or enjoyment.

Meanings for the obsolete ween include opinion, belief, expectation, supposition, and doubt. As a very rare adjective, ween meant beautiful. As a verb, the word meant to expect or surmise, and it once commonly showed up as the parenthetical “I ween,” as in Milton’s Paradise Lost: “Nor turnd I weene Adam from his fair Spouse.”

SIDEBAR: Words actually used in the 2011 Senior Spelling Bee

NOTE: Words to the Wise received a favorable review in Andrea McDougal’s Word Nerds Rejoice: Top 25 Blogs For Editing Geeks.

Available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition

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