What Does Koinonia Mean? The Winning Spelling Bee Word Is So Tricky, It Might Blow Your Mind

2018 Scripps National Spelling Bee/ESPN

May 31 marked the finals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee and it was a nail-biter to say the least. Spellers from around the nation have spent months upon months competing for the coveted spelling bee championship. And if you've been following along and watching the competitors on their journey, you may be wondering what "koinonia" means. The winning spelling bee word secured victory for 14-year-old Karthik Nemmani of McKinney, Texas, making him the 2018 National Spelling Bee Champion.

According to Merriam–Webster, the word "koinonia" means "the Christian fellowship or body of believers." McKinney attained victory by spelling the word correctly on Thursday night, beating out hundreds of other competitors. There were over 500 spellers vying for the national title at the 2018 Bee — a record-breaking number compared with last year's 291 competitors.

As champion, Nemmani will now take home the coveted Scripps National Spelling Bee engraved trophy. He will also receive $40,000 from Scripps, $2,500 from Merriam–Webster, and additional reference book prizes from Merriam–Webster and Encyclopedia Brittanica. Moreover, he will be given a Pizza Hut-sponsored pizza party at his school and have the opportunity to do various national media appearances, including Live with Kelly and Ryan and Jimmy Kimmel Live!

In the final portion of the competition, which aired on ESPN, 16 of the top spellers took to the stage to battle it out for the championship. As the Washington Post reported, the competition was incredibly tough and nearly half of the spellers misspelled their words. As the paper described, prior to the evening session of the finals, competitors were spelling for around five hours — meaning that the 16 spellers who made it to the evening portion of the finals endured an intensive full day of spelling.

As USA Today reported, the fight for the championship came down to Naysa Modi, a twelve-year-old from Frisco, Texas, and Nemmani. Modi spelled "Bewusstseinslage" incorrectly, paving the way for Nemmani to correctly spell "haecceitas" followed by the final word, "koinonia," to attain the national championship.

Modi and Nemmani have actually competed together before, as USA Today noted. Both are residents of Texas and Nemmani was actually runner-up to Modi in their county spelling bee. As the paper reported, when Nemmani was asked if competing against Modi gave him more confidence at the national level, the national champion replied, "Yeah, I guess. I guess it gave me a little more confidence."

Modi described her experience at the Bee as both exciting and intimidating. "It's really, really scary," she told the Dallas Morning News. "But at the same time I feel really lucky that I get to go up there in the first place," she added.

As the Dallas Morning News reported, Nemmani had the opportunity to compete in the National Bee this year due to a new program known as RSVBee. The program allows spellers who did not win a regional or state-wide bee to head to the national competition if they meet certain criteria.

When discussing his victory, USA Today reported that Nemmani knew that he would be able to secure the championship as soon as he heard the word "koinonia." However, in reflecting on the entire National Spelling Bee experience, the 2018 champion noted that his victory came as a surprise. As the paper reported, Nemmani asserted, "I had confidence, but I didn't really think it would happen. I'm just really happy. This has just been a dream come true."

The competition was certainly stiff at the 2018 Scripps National Spelling Bee. The Bee's winning word, "koinonia," serves as an example of the truly challenging nature of the competition. Moreover, it likely has special significance for Nemmani, who knew that victory was his after the word was announced.