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NRIs cast a spell on American words

Sukanya Roy, 14, of Abington Heights Middle School in Pennsylvania, won the Scripps National Spelling Bee contest by spelling cymotrichous, which means "having wavy hair."

india Updated: Jun 04, 2011 00:45 IST

Sukanya Roy, 14, of Abington Heights Middle School in Pennsylvania, won the Scripps National Spelling Bee contest by spelling cymotrichous, which means "having wavy hair."

"It's amazing,'' she said. "It's beyond words."

This is the fourth year in succession and ninth time in 13 years that an Indian American has been declared a Spelling Bee champion, reflecting the dominance of the community students in the competition.

The Scripps spelling bee is said to be the nation's oldest academic competition. But with 275 kids in the contest this year, it's still growing. The bee moved this year from the District to the Gaylord National Resort Hotel and Convention Center in Prince George's County to accommodate 2,000 spectators, an 80 percent increase from last year. An event that used to cater only to families is now selling $40 tickets for logophiles so they can see kids recite some of the most esoteric words in the English language.

Despite the glitz of the bee nowadays, the core values that draw millions to watch the event on ESPN are the same. The cute nervousness that a kid shows as he approaches the microphone. The anticipation of hearing a word. The interaction with the omniscient pronouncer, whose words are like a balm.

Organisers create word lists by first rolling over the leftovers of the previous year's 1,200 or so choices. A team scours Merriam-Webster's Third Unabridged Dictionary and places its best finds in a database, which is then further scrutinised.

A team of a dozen then creates digestible sentences for confusing words. The team consults medical doctors and other experts in fields to make sure its sentences are accurate for a competition that this year started with 11 million kids.

(In association with The Washington Post. For more log on to washingtonpost.com.)