With a white bow in her fine blond hair, Edith Fuller, 5, walked up to the microphone, letting out a deep breath before receiving her 37th word. After more than four hours of competing against children almost three times her age, she had advanced to the final round at the Scripps Green Country Regional Spelling Bee in Tulsa.
"Juh-nah-nuh," emphasis on the second syllable, was the pronunciation of the word the announcer gave her.
"Juh-nah-nuh," she replied. "Will you please give me the language of origin?" Edith asked, with the quiet but confident voice of someone far beyond her years.
It's "a Sanskrit word," the voice on the microphone said. Edith raised her eyebrows, asking for the definition.
"Knowledge, used in Hinduism."
"Juh-nah-nuh," Edith repeated. "J-N-A-N-A. Jnana."
Edith just barely let out a smile as the announcer declared her the champion. The 5-year-old beat about 50 other contestants from across eastern Oklahoma at Saturday night's regional competition, becoming the youngest person to ever qualify for the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., Scripps confirmed.
The miniature spelling master has become an Internet celebrity, impressing people with her ability to crack words that would stump most adults, such as Panglossian, Baedeker, nisei, and Croesus. She will take an expenses-paid trip to compete in the event scheduled for May 30 through June 1 in Washington, D.C. The National Spelling Bee is open to contestants who haven't passed the eighth grade, and there is no minimum age to compete.
Last year's youngest contestant was 6-year-old Akash Vukoti from San Angelo, Texas, who lost after misspelling the word "bacteriolytic" in the early rounds. Before even competing in the national bee, he became a YouTube star and earned guest spots on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" and Steve Harvey's "Little Big Shots." He lost at his regional bee in Texas last week and won't be back to Washington this year.
Like Akash, Edith is home-schooled, her parents said in an interview with local television station KJRH.
"We have the freedom to answer her questions, to help her advance at her own pace," her father said.
Her family first discovered Edith's skill in spelling last summer, as they sat around the table for dinner one night. The parents were quizzing her on spelling, and asked her to spell "restaurant," a word she hadn't been taught. She nailed it.
"She is very bright," Annie Fuller told KJRH. "We were amazed to find that she really has a knack for spelling and can remember words that she's seen or heard very easily."
She then showed Edith a video of a spelling bee on YouTube, and Edith was intrigued.
"We knew there was something special there," Fuller told the Tulsa World.
"It's fun to share her with everyone," she added. "I knew she'd be a novelty, so I'm proud she held her own."
To practice, Edith said, "Mommy asked me words, and each time I would misspell one, I would look at it."
Her mother said that learning new words not only prepared her for the contest, but exposed her to foreign cultures and exotic food.
While she has a great deal of practicing to do before traveling to Washington, Edith said she plans to make time for fun, too. "Maybe like play outside or play piano, maybe study animals," she said.
Throughout Saturday night's competition, Edith maintained a quiet, serious composure, occasionally playing with the laminated number sign around her neck and swirling side to side in her long, flowery skirt.
"She likes to move around," her mother said. "I'm surprised she sat still for so long."
Closing her eyes in concentration, and occasionally scrunching up her nose or eyebrows, she correctly spelled word after word. Then she returned to her chair, giving high fives to the contestant to her right, a tall girl who appeared to be at least twice her age.
"I'm going to D.C.!" she said after winning.
After receiving her trophy, which was nearly her height, she whispered to the man who gave it to her, asking if it was all right to hold it up. By all means, he insisted, hold it up high.
According to the Tulsa World, the 5-year-old with the knack for words used few to express how she felt that day:
"I feel thankful," Edith said.