Scripps National Spelling Bee oral rounds underway

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. (AP) -- For the most part, the second round of the Scripps National Spelling Bee ran like a well-oiled machine, with youngsters rattling off the letters to words like "usufructuary" and "febrifugal" without a hitch.

Then there was Skye Merriam, the rare speller who had the misfortune of hearing a word she didn't know - one more familiar to sore-muscled adults than bright and lively kids. The 11-year-old sixth grader from Driggs, Idaho, was given the pain reliever "ibuprofen." Her guess: "i-b-u-p-r-o-f-i-n-e."

The oral rounds of the 84th edition of the bee began Wednesday morning, with 275 spellers from across the United States and around the world competing. The scores were to combined with Tuesday's written test to determine who advances to the semifinals Thursday morning.

The finals will be held Thursday night, broadcast in prime time on network television for the sixth consecutive year. The winner receives more than $40,000 in cash and prizes.

Seventy-four of the first 80 competitors to approach the microphone spelled their word correctly, many of them after asking the usual questions about definition, language of origin and pronunciation. The most suspenseful moment was provided by Marcus Glenn Tecarro of Loves Park, Ill., who was clearly stumped by the word "ineluctable," an adjective that means something that's not to be avoided or escaped.

The 14-year-old eighth grader paused and paused again. Pronouncer Jacques Bailly used the word in a humorous sentence, connecting the word to tax evasion, causing many in the audience to laugh. When Marcus spelled the word correctly, he let out a sigh and feigned falling over backward in relief.

The top returning finisher from last year, Laura Newcombe of Toronto, had no problem with "equinoctial." The 12-year-old eighth grader, who tied for fifth in 2010, is trying to become the first Canadian to win the title.

Laura's top Canadian rival, Veronica Penny from Rockland, Ontario, seemed to have some trouble with the proper noun "Fauntleroy." The 13-year-old seventh grader pronounced the word several times amid long pauses before spelling it very slowly - and correctly.

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Joseph White can be reached at

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