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OXON HILL, Maryland (Reuters) - Fist pumps, high fives and leaps in the air mingled with dejection and jitters as the last 42 young contestants in the United States' Scripps National Spelling Bee went through the semifinal round on Thursday.
They cringed when the simple toll of a bell from the judges signaled a misspelling and elimination from the tournament. Eleven spellers made it into the finals after dodging such words as "sciapodous," or having very large feet, "minnelied," a love song, and "telmatology," the study of wetlands.
Finalist Amber Born, 14, of Marblehead, Massachusetts, put her name placard to good use after pleading with pronouncer Jacques Bailly, "Please give me something I know."
Born, a home schooled eighth-grader who wants to be a stand-up comedian, got "malacophilous," a word for pollination by snails. She hesitated, hid her face behind her placard, then held it up to write on it with a finger, and leapt with triumph when she got it right.
"I was trying to block out everything" with the placard. "It's easier to concentrate when you're not looking at a lot of people and cameras," she told Reuters. "I'm in the finals. I don't care what happens now."
Some contestants nervously put fingertips to ears as they hoped for words they knew and spelled. Given "cyanope," Caleb Miller, a 13-year-old home-schooled eighth-grader from Calhoun, Louisiana, asked Bailly, "Does this come from the Greek word meaning 'eye'?" Told that it did, he said, "Thank goodness."
The clue was not enough, and Miller was eliminated. "Oh, you've got to be kidding me," he exclaimed when given the correct spelling for the word for someone with fair hair and brown eyes.
The finals run from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET and are scheduled to be broadcast on ESPN.
The finalists were winnowed from 281 contestants, aged eight to 14, from across the United States and other countries. They advanced after onstage spelling and, for the first time since the contest started in 1927, computerized tests that included vocabulary questions.
Before the round began, Paige Kimble, the Bee's executive director and 1981 champion, told the crowded ballroom the contestants were "athletes of the English language."
Arvind Mahankali, 13, from Bayside Hills, New York, who finished third two years in a row, cruised into the finals after spelling "erethic," or excessive irritability, and "intravasation," the invasion of a blood vessel.
"I'm just going to take it step by step. I'm just going to relax (before the finals) but find a little time to review words," Mahankali told reporters. Mahankali, an eighth-grader at Nathaniel Hawthorne Middle School, wants to become a quantum physicist.
The 11 finalists include Vanya Shivashankar, 11, a sixth-grader at California Trail Middle School in Olathe, Kansas, whose sister, Kavya, won the title in 2009.
The champion will receive $30,000, a trophy and other prizes.
The finalists are:
- Grace Remmer, 14, St. Augustine, Florida
- Christal Schermeister, 13, Pembroke Pines, Florida
- Nikitha Chandran, 13, Valrico, Florida
- Pranav Sivakumar, 13, Tower Lakes, Illinois
- Vanya Shivashankar, 11, Olathe, Kansas
- Amber Born, 14, Marblehead, Massachusetts
- Sriram Hathwar, 13, Painted Post, New York
- Arvind Mahankali, 13, Bayside Hills, New York
- Chetan Reddy, 13, Plano, Texas
- Syamantak Payra, 12, Friendswood, Texas
- Vismaya Kharkar, 14, Bountiful, Utah
Editing by Scott Malone and Alden Bentley