Spelling Bee Contestant Redeems Faux Pas, Return for Another Shot at Winning

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In the intense atmosphere of last year’s Scripps National Spelling Bee, it was a four-letter word that marked the downfall of Shradha Rachamreddy, pushing her to a third-place finish. As the number of participants thinned out, her challenge was the word “orle,” – borrowed from heraldry, designed to trip up with its simple disguise, referring to small charges arranged to form an inner border within a field’s edge. A term that personifies a phonetic wolf in sheep’s clothing, indistinguishable in pronunciation to the much more familiar word, “oral.” Opting for “orel” as her guess, Shradha found herself at the mercy of the infamous bell earmarking a spelling error.

Reflecting almost a year later, Shradha mulls over her faux pas, “I overcomplicated it. It looks simple, it should have been simple, but I missed it.”

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Fortunately for Shradha, her near-miss was not the end of her story. A seventh-grader at the time, she was still entitled to another year of eligibility. Now at 14, the San Jose, California resident has returned as one of the 245 spellers contending in this year’s bee. The competition commenced with preliminary rounds on Tuesday at a convention center nestled on the outskirts of Washington, D.C.

Wisdom lies in exploring one’s own fallibilities. Like other returning spellers, Shradha has tried to bolster her shortcomings. The apperception of her linguistic Achilles’ heel – super short, tricky words – sparked a strategic approach to her studies this year.

She reflects, “I did miss on a four-letter word ,and I worked on compiling those into one list. I try to identify the words that seem likely to show up. If they’re not spelled particularly the way they sound, then I’m like, ‘OK, it’s fair game,’ and I study that.”

However, even the most committed and strategic approach has not been proven foolproof by the annals of the Bee’s nearly century-long history. Not a single contender has managed to commit to memory the half-million words of Webster’s Unabridged dictionary, from which any can be plucked for inclusion by Scripps’ panel of ace spellers, linguists, and other experts.

Aryan Khedkhar, a 13-year-old Michigan-native, shares his secret for deciphering tricky words – categorizing them. He adds, “There are words with roots and words without roots that you just have to memorize. The ones that you have to memorize, I use language patterns. That really helps. If it doesn’t have language patterns, I just try to use the simplest way possible.”

Meanwhile, Aditi Muthukumar is prepping for her shots from the dark, addressing potential weaknesses on words derived from French or the myriad languages of the Indian subcontinent.

Representing international dimensions, three spellers from Ghana, clad in uniform kente fabric jackets, imbue the event with their national pride. Team Ghana, under the tutelage of former competitor Darren Sackey, was fueled by their commitment to bringing honor to their country.

The Spelling Bee is not solely about spelling – it has also dipped its toes into assessing vocabulary, surreptitiously introduced with a euphemism: “word meaning”. Those who manage to sail through their first word are then asked to define a provided term.

Among other transformations tracing back to 2021, these vocabulary rounds mark the latest evolution of The Scripps National Spelling Bee. As diverse in words as it is in participants, the Bee serves as a reminder of the power of language and the fascinating pursuit to master it.