WASHINGTON -- Thirteen-year-old Amy Dimak of Seattle knew that a fabric of spun rayon is spelled 'fibranne,' earning her the title of best speller in the 63rd National Spelling Bee.
'Oh my God. Oh my God,' the slender, bespectacled girl said over and over Thursday when the judges acknowledged she correctly spelled the final word to give her the championship.
The annual contest came down to a face-off between Amy and Eric Enders, 13, of El Paso, Texas, who incorrectly spelled the word 'douanier,' which is French for 'customs officer.' Painstakingly, after asking judges for the word's definition and how it is used in a sentence,he spelled it 'd-o-i-n-i-e-r.'
Amy, who beat out 225 other contestants in the two-day spelling bee, said her two summers of French helped her correctly spell the final two words.
As for adults who are poor spellers, Amy said at a news conference it may be too late. But for school children, her advice was: 'Get a good education for later use in life and that'll get you better jobs.'
Amy, who said she wants to be a teacher, said she is an A or A- student, with science and math her favorite subjects.
Words in the tension-filled Dimak-Enders contest included guerimonious, meaning complaining, sansculotte, meaning a revolutionary of the poorer class; valetudinary, meaning a sickly person; and lanuginous, meaning covered with hair.
The contestants handled the competition with maturity and grace despite the intense competition. But the anxiety caught up with many after they blew a word, crying once they left the contest hall. Some parents of the defeated spellers were seen shedding a few tears.
The road to the title of best speller has been arduous, with a record 226 youngsters age 9 to 14 beginning the competition Wednesday, and 155 earning the right to continue to the more difficult final rounds Thursday.
Five of the first 10 finalists could not spell such words as 'goondie' or 'theurgist.'
Angela Greaves, 14, Lafayette, La., was stumped by 'goondie,' which is a name for an aboriginal hut. She spelled it as 'ghundi.' Matthew Snider, 14, Hicksville, Ohio, was tripped up by 'theurgist' (a magician), which he spelled as 'thyergist.'
The preliminary rounds used words culled from practice lists, but the finals were more challenging for the youngsters because the words were picked at random from a dictionary.
'It's much harder,' said Kelly Postlethwait, 11, Jane Lew, W.Va. 'It's also a long, boring wait while other kids are spelling.' She earned the right to proceed in the finals by correctly spelling 'emolument,' meaning payment received from work.
But Max Chen-Yee Soong, 12, of Andover, Mass., who blew the spelling of 'minacious,' meaning threatening -- he spelled it 'menacious' -- thought some of the finalists got words that were too easy.
'Come on -- 'rendezvous'? he said with a voice hinting of envy. 'It made me very mad. That's too easy for this round.'
Other words that threw contestants included 'pergameneous' (resembling parchment), spelled as 'pergimenious'; 'sayonara' (Japanese for goodbye), spelled as 'scianara'; 'zwinger' (a fortress), spelled as 'svinger'; and 'serotinal' (late summer), spelled as 'cerotinal.'
The winner receives $5,000. The second-place finisher wins $4,000, third-place gets $2,500 and fourth-place takes home $1,000.
The participants come from 47 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Mexico, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and overseas Department of Defense schools.
Success in the bee depends, in part, on how much time youngsters study words, their background in Latin or other foreign languages or just plain luck or innate ability.
For instance, Greaves said her daily drill in the last several weeks involved one hour of quizzing by her mother or sister. J. Herschel Jeffrey, 12, of Chesapeake, Ohio, said he studied words one hour every two days.
For contestants who apparently have never heard of a word they must spell, they seem to try any angle available to master the spelling by asking for the word's root, definition, use in a sentence and another, but more precise, pronunciation.
Words that tripped up contestants in Wednesday's preliminary rounds included cerography (art of wax figures), spelled as ceraugraphy; guignolet (French liqueur), spelled as guignelet; piloncillo (unrefined sugar), spelled as pieloncio; and ichthyism (poisoning by fish) spelled as icthyism.