At the National Spelling Bee, Roscoe teen moves ahead to the semifinals


Julissa Negron of Roscoe, IL about to spell "roanoke" at the 2023 Scripps National Spelling Bee on Wednesday morning, May 31, 2023.

"Yes!" Roscoe's Julissa Negron whispered triumphantly when she heard the word "roanoke," the word that would move her on to the semifinals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee. Before 7:45 a.m. on Wednesday morning, May 31, 2023, after trading howdys with chief pronouncer Dr. Jacques Bailly, Julissa became the 22nd speller to get their word right. Fourteen had already been eliminated that morning during the quarterfinals by such words as glochidiate, baize, huke, phenolphthalein, and flong.

Julissa asked only for the word's language of origin, and Dr. Bailly told her it was Algonquian. She nodded her head with a knowing smile, then correctly spelled the word. "Roanoke" means "beads made of shells polished and strung together in strands, belts or sashes and used by the Native Americans as money, ceremonial pledges, and ornaments." The definition appears in the Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary, to which all contestants receive a free annual subscription.

Semifinals are scheduled for 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. Wednesday afternoon at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center, though they won't be broadcast on ION until 7 p.m.

Julissa is a former student of Kinnikinnick Elementary School and a current eighth grader at Roscoe Middle School, where she is involved in Jazz Band, National Junior Honor Society, Student Council, and track, as well as musical theater and dance. She told our reporter she manages to do so much because “I plan a lot.”

You can watch the Spelling Bee on or on ION, which is streaming on Tubi, Roku, and Pluto. The finals will also be available on cable, WIFR, DISH, or DIRECTV and streamed on Tubi and Pluto on Thursday, June 1, 2023, from 7 to 9 p.m.

This week, 229 spellers and their families began their adventure at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center near the nation's capital. Only 139 made it past the first two rounds of the preliminaries, 19 were eliminated in the final round, and 121 advanced to the quarterfinals.

The quarterfinals include both spelling and multiple-choice questions on word meanings.

Before today, Julissa correctly spelled "calusar" (it's pronounced with an "sh" sound) and "salvific," and knew where she might encounter a "bonsai" ("in a greenhouse").

In each 90-second spelling portion, spellers are allowed to ask the pronouncers Dr. Bailly or Dr. Sietsema for the word's definition, language(s) of origin, alternate pronunciations, and what part of speech it is. They can also ask the pronouncer to repeat the word or to use the word in a sentence. They have to spell the word before the timer runs out in 90 seconds.

Most spellers seem to have a strategy of asking as many questions as possible. Many even ask questions more than once. Some begin by asking outright, "May I can please have all the information?" Many ask, "Am I saying it correctly?" but the pronouncers simply repeat the word. Other spellers ask questions about root words; for example, asking if the word contains the Greek root "anti" meaning "against." That helps them rule out alternatives.

But Julissa seems to have a different style, asking few questions. For "salvific," she asked only one question: whether the word came from the Greek. For "calusar" (kəˌlüˈshär), which could be phonetically spelled "kelushar" or even "colooshaar," Julissa asked no questions at all. She had apparently memorized the spelling, if not the meaning: "a Romanian hobbyhorse dance done by members of a sworn brotherhood in wild steps and fierce mock combat."

To learn the correct pronunciation of "calusar," don't watch YouTube videos on "how to pronounce calusar." I found only one video that even vaguely matches the Merriam-Webster dictionary and Dr. Bailly's pronunciation. But since it features actual Romanian calusari, I think their pronunciation might be correct, don't you? Though this other video is the one with actual hobbyhorses.

More about the National Spelling Bee

Julissa Negron in the semifinals at Scripps Spelling Bee

Julissa Negron advances to the quarterfinals at National Spelling Bee

Julissa Negron sails through first two rounds of Scripps Spelling Bee

Roscoe Middle School's Julissa Negron heads for National Spelling Bee

Julissa Negron is on her way to Scripps Spelling Bee in Washington DC

Roscoe's Avani Joshi ties for 7th place in National Spelling Bee

More Spelling Bee photos on Flickr

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