Define-a-Thon: An Easy, Fun Bookstore Event

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version

BookExpo America attendees had the opportunity to determine who among them had the superior accretion of vocabulary knowledge during the first Heritage "Define-a-Thon" on Saturday afternoon, June 2, in the Book Sense Lounge.

The exultant winner, Gail Weiss, a former book buyer for Poisoned Pen Press, won an iPod Nano and an American Heritage Reference Library. The prize for the runner-up was the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition.

The Define-a-Thon was devised by Houghton Mifflin staff as a fun way to promote the American Heritage Dictionary. Fashioned along the lines of the traditional spelling bee, contestants are asked to select synonyms or antonyms from four options. Words in the Level 1 category are far more familiar than those in the Level 3 group -- the most challenging. The word lists are included in a free Event Kit published by Houghton Mifflin.

Cogitate on this Level 3 example: Select the synonym for a Turkish sword having double-curved blades and an eared pommel, but lacking a handle guard.
1. gouache 2. khamsin 3. yataghan 4. zarf
(Answer: 3. yataghan)

Taryn Roeder, assistant director of publicity for the Trade & Reference Division of Houghton Mifflin, told BTW, "The Define-a-Thon is an attempt to go beyond the spelling bee. Every time we've done it, more people have become interested. Everyone likes to compete -- they don't even care about prizes."

Complete event kits, including the three levels of word lists, are available on request via e-mail to or Materials, including posters, name tags, winner certificates, and contestant rules, can also be downloaded from Houghton Mifflin's Define-a-Thon webpage.

Two new books, The American Heritage Dictionary Define-a-Thon for the High School Graduate and for the High School Freshman, will be available from Houghton Mifflin this fall.

The publisher is also declaring the week of October 7 "Define-a-Thon Week."

"There will likely be national media attention [for the week], and we can help stores set up contests," said Roeder. "We will post pictures from contests on our site."

Booksellers who are interested in creating a Define-a-Thon event should check out the Houghton Mifflin site or contact Roeder for more information. --Nomi Schwartz