OXON HILL, Md. – Five memorable moments from Thursday's semifinals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee:
Jae Canetti of Falls Church, Virginia, making his third appearance in the bee, was eliminated from the semifinals immediately after ESPN2 profiled him and his family. His mother was diagnosed with cancer just two months before last year's bee, which he said affected his preparation and concentration, and he missed the semifinals by one point. She has since recovered and was in the audience Thursday.
Jae received a standing ovation after he misspelled "parseval," a non-rigid airship.
"That show of support really has comforted me," Jae said afterward in a televised interview.
Normally calm onstage, Jae squinted and fidgeted as he tried to guess the word. The 12-year-old seventh-grader has one year of eligibility remaining.
"The one word I didn't know, pretty much," Jae said. "I've just got to study more German."
Meghana Kamineni of Lockport, Illinois, correctly spelled "cachinnate," which means to laugh loudly. Two spellers later, given the word "epixylous," Lucas Urbanski of Crystal Lake, Illinois, got the biggest laugh of the semifinal round with a question for pronouncer Jacques Bailly.
"Can you make me cachinnate with a sentence?" Lucas said.
At 5-foot-10, finalist Kate Miller of Abilene, Texas, is accustomed to towering over her fellow spellers. She also has the longest hair, which reaches below her waist. A dancer and an aspiring writer, her hobbies include film analysis, knitting Rodentia and "crafting irreverent travesties of pop songs," according to her official spelling bee biography.
"I'm not the tallest speller, but I'm the tallest finalist," Kate said. "When I competed in sixth grade, I was 5-8, and when I competed in seventh grade, I was 5-9, and in eighth grade, fittingly, I'm 5-10."
Kate smiled throughout her time onstage and leaned over to speak into the microphone. She said she enjoys being nervous, and she admitted her first semifinal word, "duello," was "a complete guess."
"I feel more alive when I'm nervous. I think that a bit of nervous energy, not debilitating to the point where you can't remember what you've learned, but a certain amount of nervousness really does help you," she said. "It helps you remember why you're there."
It rarely happens in the semifinal round of the National Spelling Bee, but sometimes, a word is spelled exactly like it sounds.
Finalist Ansun Sujoe of Fort Worth, Texas, was momentarily flummoxed when asked to spell "laulau," a Hawaiian-derived word for meat or fish wrapped in leaves and baked or steamed.
"What does this mean?" he asked incredulously.
After getting the definition and other context from Bailly, he was resigned to guess.
"Oh, laulau, OK," he said, before spelling the word correctly.
The youngest speller in the finals is happy to be there.
Making his first appearance in the National Spelling Bee, 11-year-old Tejas Muthusamy of Glen Allen, Virginia, exceeded his own expectations by advancing to the championship round. He spelled "commorients" and "exsiccosis" correctly during the semifinals.
Afterward, he admitted there was some luck involved.
"I never expected that I could get to the semifinals in the first place," he said. "There were many hard words in round six that I did not know."
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