An obscure word taken from the buffalo-hunting days of the Old West knocked out the final Pennsylvania contestant in last night's Scripps National Spelling Bee, aired on national TV.
The title went instead to Sameer Mishra, a 13-year-old eighth grader from West Lafayette, Ind., who successfully spelled
, a word meaning "something that has been earned or gained."
The dozen finalists, ages 12 to 14, included three spellers from California, two from Illinois, one each from Michigan, Minnesota, Indiana, Ohio, Kansas and Arkansas - and one from Pennsylvania, Jahnavi Iyer, 14, of Enola, near Harrisburg.
In jeans, with her hair pulled back and braided, Iyer approached the microphone with confidence. She correctly spelled two difficult words -
(a symbol used by the medical profession) and
(anything having to do with the German philosopher Nietzsche).
But she faltered on
, defined for her on the stage at Washington's Grand Hyatt hotel as "rawhide - as of buffalo - soaked in rye to remove the hair and dried."
It comes from French, she was told.
"It's French, you said?" she asked the word-giver.
Yes, she was told.
The eighth grader from Eagle View Middle School gave a rueful smile. "That sounds nice," she said with a touch of fatalistic sarcasm.
She asked to have the definition repeated. She said it aloud a few times, then gave it a try: "P-A-R-F-L-E-S-H."
There was silence. Then, ding. A bell told her she was out of the competition.
Earlier yesterday, in the semifinal rounds, Meghan Reynolds, 14, of Landenberg, Chester County - the only other Pennsylvania student still in the running at that point - was knocked out by the word
, a sauce made from white wine, light stock, shallots and herbs.
Reynolds spelled it "berci." After the ringing of the bell, she waved and said, "Bye, Dr. Bailly," to the pronouncer, Jacques Bailly of the University of Vermont.
Two hours before the finals, Iyer had said she was feeling good about her chances of success as she waited for the 8 p.m. event to be aired on ABC.
She said she had her parents - a physician and a salesman - to keep her calm, and her 15-year-old brother "to distract me."
"I didn't get nervous as I thought I would," a very calm and composed Iyer said.
She said she had become fascinated with the bee by watching it over the last couple of years, when it was broadcast live on ESPN.
She got into the competition "because I wanted just to see what it would be like."
Mishra, the bee champion, took home cash prizes totaling $35,000 plus a $2,500 savings bond, reference works, and an engraved trophy. All contestants received smaller cash prizes and other keepsakes.
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