41 advance to semi-finalist at Scripps National Spelling Bee

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The 14-year-old eighth grader paused and paused again. Pronouncer Jacques Bailly used the word in a humorous sentence, connecting it to tax evasion, causing many in the audience to laugh. When Marcus spelled the word correctly, he let out a sigh and feigned falling over backward in relief.

11-year-old Caleb Miller spells a word on his hand during the opening round of the 2011 Spelling Bee. (Photo: Associated Press)

Arvind Mahankali from New York punched the air when he correctly spelled "melange," while Caleb Miller of Monroe, La., was one of several who used the tried-and-true method of writing the word on his hand as he spelled it.

Surjo Bandyopadhyay of Lusby, Md., grabbed the microphone as if he were going to sing instead of spell; he initially looked perplexed by the medical word "lidocaine," then blurted out "I got it" and spelled it with a smile.

Nerves compete with aptitude under the bright lights of the stage, and the spellers who have been here before have the advantage of knowing the routine. Two-time participant Antony Joseph of Fairmont, Minn., greeted Bailly with a "Yo" when approaching the microphone and comfortably spelled "deceptious."

The top returning finishers from last year had no problems with their words. Joanna Ye, a 14-year-old eighth grader from Carlisle, Pa., had a warm "Hi, Dr. Bailly" greeting for the pronouncer before spelling "wickiup," a type of Native American hut.

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