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So close! Youngest speller trips up on 'ingluvies' at National Spelling Bee

Lori Anne Madison, the 6-year-old who became the youngest-ever competitor in the National Spelling Bee, did not qualify for the semifinals but still made history. NBC's Lester Holt reports.

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- "W-i-t-t-i-c-i-s-m." And with that word, correctly spelled by Kevin Lazenby, 13, of Opelika, Ala., the 85th National Spelling Bee got under way on Wednesday morning.

Each of the 278 participants spells two words during the day's preliminary rounds, and their scores will be combined with their scores from a 50-word computer test they took Tuesday to determine the field of no more than 50 semifinalists, The Associated Press reported. You can follow along with the day's rounds here.


This year's contest included the bee's youngest speller ever: 6-year-old Lori Anne Madison of Lake Ridge, Va. Lori Anne, speller No. 269, correctly spelled "dirigible" during her turn just before noon Wednesday. The Washington Post reported that she asked for a definition, got the word right and quickly took her seat. 

But she misspelled "ingluvies" during the third round later that afternoon. Ingluvies is the crop (throat) of birds; Lori Anne provided the spelling e-n-g-l-u-v-i-e-s. When the final scores were released by early Wednesday evening, she learned that she would not move on to the semifinal round.

Lori Anne is a home-schooled student who loves swimming, math and the outdoors -- and says she wants to be an astrobiologist.

Think you're a good speller? Take this audio quiz

"She loves it and she does it because it's a passion, and we never push her into anything and want her to make her own choices," her mother, Sorina Madison, told The Associated Press.

Jacquelyn Martin / AP file

Lori Anne Madison, 6, of Lake Ridge, Va., walks through river water while playing with friends in a park in McLean, Va., on May 11.



For nearly half the spellers, math is a favorite subject, according to the National Spelling Bee web site, with science coming in second. And another fun fact -- at least 20 spellers have a relative who has competed in the event before. 

Among their favorite words is humuhumunukunukuapuaa, which is a small Hawaiian trigger fish, according to Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary. (Some of the words are so specific or archaic that they don't appear in standard dictionaries.)

As for winning words throughout the years, those seem to have become more difficult. In 1925, Frank Neuhauser of Louisville, Ky., won the bee with "gladiolus." The next year, Pauline Bell, also from Louisville, won with "cerise."

Last year, Sukanya Roy won with cymotrichous, which redirects to "hair" on Wikipedia.

Jacquelyn Martin / AP

Smart young people from across the nation compete to become the next National Spelling Bee champion. Above, Lori Anne Madison of Lake Ridge, Va. is the youngest-ever contestant in the National Spelling Bee.

NBC News’ Ellie Hall contributed to this report.

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