If Snigdha Nandipati, the 14-year-old who won last year's Scripps National Spelling Bee, had been asked to define her winning word, "guetapens," things might have turned out differently.
This year, a vocabulary test with word definitions is, for the first time in the bee's 86-year history, part of the competition. Preliminary and semifinal contestants must pass the test to get to the finals of the grueling competition.
The definitions test already weeded out eight contestants on Wednesday, eliminating competitors who didn't know the meaning of "sinecure" (a cushy job), "Weissnichtwo" (an imaginary place) or "commissar" (a Russian official).
Even so, Meghana Giri of Anniston, Ala., handled spelling the Russian-derived Cold War word "glasnost" (openness), and not long after, another contestant got "perestroika" (restructuring).
The finals, held Thursday night, will determine the winner, who will take home more than $30,000 in cash and prizes, according to The Associated Press.
There's some sibling rivalry involved in this year's contest: Top contender Vanya Shivashankar, 11, of Olathe, Kan., is hoping to live up to her sister Kavya's legacy — she won in 2009. Thirteen-year-old Ashwin Veeramani, of Cleveland, also hopes to defend the family honor established by his sister, Anamika, who took the title in 2010.