Stumped by simplicity

June 02, 2005|by KAREN HANNA

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Five letters. Two syllables.

For Grace Academy eighth-grader Steven Wolfe, the task of spelling the word meaning a nine-instrument or nine-performer composition might have been just a little too easy.

"I don't remember studying it. I thought it would be a little harder than that," Steven, 14, said Wednesday after he misspelled "nonet" in the first oral round of the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C.

Steven spelled the word "nonette."

He did not earn enough points on a written test to offset his misspelling and failed to move on to Round Three of the competition at Grand Hyatt Washington.


According to Paige Kimble, spelling bee director, 273 spellers took part in the first two rounds. Ninety-seven spellers qualified for Round Three, Kimble said.

Steven leaned over to speak into the microphone on a red-carpeted center stage and asked pronouncer Jacques Bailly for the definition and origin of "nonet" before requesting to hear the word again.

As many spellers discovered, the inquiries were not always enough to decipher words that included "tergiversation" - Speller No. 1 nailed it to start the competition - and "bartizan," a word No. 106 spelled correctly before Steven took his turn.

Spellers from Canada, Europe and the United States coughed, sighed, shuffled their feet and gasped as they heard their words pronounced.

"Excuse me?" asked Victoria Stanley, her bewilderment drawing laughter as Bailly repeated her word.

Victoria, a fourth-grader from Marion, Ind., misspelled "sciamachy," which is a fight with imagined enemies.

Hundreds of friends, parents and siblings watched the bee. Some tried to write down the words Bailly gave spellers, while others took in the action from behind the lenses of cameras.

Steven's parents, Bob and Sue Wolfe, said they were just proud their son had qualified for the bee.

"I think he's a lot more relaxed now," Bob Wolfe said, a hand on his son's shoulder after Kimble announced the Round Three finalists.

Steven, who correctly spelled "synapse" to win the Washington County Spelling Bee, was sponsored by The Herald-Mail.

A second Tri-State qualifier, Erin Jones, a sixth-grader at Charles Town Middle School in West Virginia, also failed to advance. She misspelled "monomeniscous."

Despite studying about an hour a day to prepare for the bee, Steven said he did not feel confident about his efforts on the spelling test.

While he recognized the words other spellers were given during Round Two, he had not studied his.

"I knew a lot of them, but I didn't know mine," Steven said.

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