WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two finalists from last year's Scripps National Spelling Bee and the sister of a past champion were among 50 contestants admitted to the semi-final round after a tense day of competition on Wednesday.
A field of 278 young spellers aged 6 to 15 was winnowed down to 50 after they spelled words on stage at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland, just south of Washington, D.C.
Arvind Mahankali, 12, who tied for third place in last year's contest, correctly spelled "garibaldi," a type of blouse and "apparatchik," an official blindly devoted to his superiors or organization. He goes to school in New York City.
Nabeel Rahman, 14, who attends school in East Amherst, New York spelled the musical term "coloratura" and "tamarind," a fruit that comes from a tropical Asian tree. He placed 10th in last year's bee.
Vanya Shivashankar, 10, another semi-finalist, is the sister of 2009 champion Kavya Shivashankar. The younger Shivashankar was the only contestant this year to make a perfect score on the first round of the preliminary competition, a computer test completed by all the contenders the day before.
On Wednesday, she correctly spelled the words "debellation," the act of conquering, and "auteur," to describe a filmmaker.
Lori Anne Madison, 6, of nearby Woodbridge, Virginia, the youngest participant ever to qualify for the bee, failed to make it past Wednesday's round. She incorrectly spelled the word "ingluvies," the crop of a bird or insect.
By the end of Wednesday participants had spelled words such as "schadenfreude," enjoyment derived from others' pain; "philately," the study of postage stamps and postal history; "hafiz" a term for someone who has memorized the Koran; and "flibbertigibbet," to describe a flighty person.
Words that the contestants slipped up on included "ascetic," to describe austerity or self-denial; "blasé," to be apathetic to pleasure or excitement; and "gnathonic," to mean fawning.
The young contestants will compete in the semi-final round where they will be eliminated once they misspell a word. The final competition is on Thursday night.
The spelling bee champion wins a $30,000 cash prize, a $2,500 U.S. savings bond and a $5,000 scholarship, among other prizes, according to the Scripps website.
Last year's winner was 14-year-old Sukanya Roy from South Abington Township, Pennsylvania, who spelled "cymotrichous," used to describe having wavy hair.
Editing by Eric Walsh