Fastlane:Keshav Pillai

Keshav Pillai, National Spelling Bee participant

One man's uvula is another man's chance to spell it on a stage in Washington, D.C. Last spring, Incarnate Word Academy eighth-grader Keshav Pillai finished tied for eighth out of 265 spellers at the Scripps-Howard National Spelling Bee. "It was exciting, stressful, nerve-wracking, all those things," says the North Royalton 15-year-old, who has also participated in geography, vocabulary and math competitions. "And by the way, your uvula is that fleshly lobe thing that hangs in the back of your mouth."

So, are the kids friendly at the National Spelling Bee or are they like "Back off, buddy, I've got a dictionary and I'm not afraid to use it?"

There was a little bit of that, but most of the kids were really nice.

Are you rooting for the other kids to mess up?

Well, you try not to.

When you do that whole "Is there an alternate pronunciation?" or "Could you please use it in a sentence?" or "Could you repeat the word?" thing, you're just stalling, right?

That's what everybody thinks. The thing is, it's impossible to memorize the whole dictionary. So I spend most of my time studying etymology — the history of language and words. When I ask questions like that, I'm trying to get clues to help me make logical decisions when I'm spelling.

You must kick butt at Scrabble.

Yeah, I'm pretty good.

What word knocked you out of the Nationals?

Sciapodous. I forgot the C.

Good God, what's wrong with you?

Please, forgive me.

Do you want to join the Professional Spellers Tour when you grow up?

Boy, I wish there was one.

Do you read Webster's instead of Harry Potter?

I enjoy both, actually.

You must be really good at "Wheel of Fortune."

I prefer "Jeopardy."

When your parents tell you to clean your room, do you ask for an alternate definition?

I'll try, but I don't think it's going to work.

Do you look up bad words in the dictionary and claim it's research?

My mom's sitting here, so I'm going to say no.

OK, I'm ready. Give me a word.

Here's the word I had in the fifth round of the Nationals: lararium.

May I have the origin of the word and the definition?

It's Latin and it means "the shrine of the lares in an ancient Roman home."

Are there any alternate pronunciations?

You're stalling.

Fine. L-O-R-A-R-E-U-M.

I'm sorry, you're out.

I'd like to buy a vowel please.

Wrong game.

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