Few easy words to be had as U.S. Spelling Bee begins

Wed May 27, 2015 6:36pm EDT
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By Ian Simpson

OXON HILL, Md. (Reuters) - Youthful contestants in the Scripps National Spelling Bee reacted with a combination of shock and awe to some of the words they were assigned as the annual competition began on Wednesday.

Jeremy Ortmann, a 14-year-old eighth-grader from Hobe Sound, Florida, recoiled and laughed in disbelief when asked to spell "gesamtkunstwerk," a German word for a perfect work of art.

"You were saving that one for me, weren't you?" he said to pronouncer Jacques Bailly, then aced it.

Some contestants wrung their hands when they got a word and looked to the ceiling as they spelled. Many wrote out the letters on their hands or forearms before stepping up to the microphone.

Charles Hamilton Jr., a 12-year-old eighth-grader from Nassau, the Bahamas, responded quickly when given "Wensleydale" to spell.

"May I have an easy word, please?" he asked, drawing laughter from the audience in a hotel ballroom. He then correctly gave the spelling for the English cheese.

After preliminary and semifinal rounds, the finals on Thursday night will be televised by ESPN. The winner receives $35,000, savings bonds and other prizes.

The almost 300 spellers in the 88th annual Bee emerged from more than 11 million hopefuls who took part in local contests. They come from eight countries and all 50 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, U.S. territories and Defense Department schools.   Continued...

Jenna-May Ingal of Riverside, California, reacts to making the semi-finals of the 88th annual Scripps National Spelling Bee at National Harbor, Maryland May 27, 2015.    REUTERS/Joshua Roberts