She had one of the trickiest words — curfuffle.
Her brother, mother and father, sitting in the audience at the Scripps National Spelling Bee on Wednesday, cringed when they heard 13-year-old Vasundara Govindarajan of Miami start the word with a “c.” It’s more commonly spelled kerfuffle, a Scottish Gaelic word meaning commotion or fuss.
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But Vasundara either knew something — or guessed right. Merriam-Webster, the official dictionary of the Spelling Bee, says both spellings, and even a third — carfuffle —are correct.
“I had never heard of that word before, and I took my best shot. I didn’t expect it to be right,” she said by phone Wednesday night.
Still, it wasn’t enough to get the seventh-grader at Archimedean Middle Conservatory in Kendale Lakes to Thursday’s finals. Late Wednesday, Spelling Bee officials announced the 40 finalists. Vasundara was No. 41, according to her father and coach, Muthiah.
He said she could have done better in the vocabulary test. To winnow the 291 spellers to the 40 finalists, the competition includes a written spelling test and written vocabulary test — in addition to the oral spellings, which were held Wednesday at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in Maryland.
Vasundara, her second time at the national bee, said she was disappointed but hopes to return next year; it would be her last year, as the competition cuts off at eighth grade or age 15.
Simone, a fifth-grader at St. Bonaventure Catholic School in Davie, cried for a bit as she left the hotel, but her mother, Alana Kaplan, said she will be back.
“This is not going to be the end of Simone Kaplan,” declared her mom. “We already have a big plan.”
This was the first time Simone had participated in the national competition, which had 291 contestants enter the preliminaries on Tuesday, culled from more than 11 million spellers who started the quest in January. The finals will be aired from 8:30 to 10:30 p.m. Thursday night on ESPN.
The spellers range in age from 6 to 15 and come from all 50 U.S. states, along with the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the U.S. Department of Defense schools in Europe. (There are also 11 spellers from the Bahamas, Canada, Ghana, Jamaica, Japan and South Korea —the result of international sponsorships.) Of the 40 finalists, 38 came from the States and two were from foreign countries: Canada and South Korea.
The two South Florida spellers got off to a good start Wednesday morning. Both passed the second round without much ado.
“F-i-b-u-l-a, fibula, Simone stated assuredly, referring to the smaller of the two bones between the knee and the ankle. “I’m sure of it.”
Vasundara, meanwhile, asked for her word’s language of origin, definition, part of speech and usage in a sentence before spelling the word with her finger on the palm of her hand, then uttering it aloud.
Vasundara had hoped to best her brother’s record. Vaidya, now 19 and in an accelerated medical school program at the University of Miami, made it to the finals twice — once in 2010, tying for ninth place, and once in 2012, coming in 10th. Vasundara placed 22nd last year.
“I’m still thinking about winning. I have to focus more on the vocabulary, and next year I’m going to be more prepared,” she said.
As for her brother?
“I’ll try to make it up to him.”
Miami Herald Staff Writer Carli Teproff contributed to this report.