DUBAI // There were only two words to describe the end of the region's first major spelling bee contest last night: "abecedarius" and "abscissa".
Maanasa Srikrishna, 14, from the Indian High School, had already incorrectly spelt the word describing an alphabetical arrangement, when her schoolmate Ram Sankar, also 14, stepped up to tackle "abscissa".
Ram correctly spelt his word, which means the distance from a point on a graph to the y-axis, and clinched a Dh25,000 prize in the Dubai Spelling Bee Championship.
"It felt great to win, I was on top of the world," Ram said. "The spelling bee is dependent on luck and I was lucky enough to win. I had come across the word 'abscissa' in my maths textbook so I knew what it meant."
Ram and other students who collected cash prizes will not be able to spend their winnings at the mall as it will go towards their school fees.
Indian High School completed a clean sweep as another of its students, Nithin Presannan, 13, finished third.
More than 1,200 pupils in Grades 6 to 9 at 22 schools across Dubai took part in the preliminary rounds, which began early last month. The best 166 went forward to last weekend's semi-finals, where all but the 55 finalists were eliminated.
Yesterday's final started at 10.20am as the finalists walked one by one on to the stage at the Dubai Community Theatre and Arts Centre's Centrepoint Theatre in the Mall of the Emirates.
First up was Adarsh Sasi, 14, from Our Own High School Al Warqa. Adarsh got proceedings off to a successful start by correctly spelling "rhetorician".
A word was read out to each contestant and they had two minutes to come up with the spelling. If they were unsure, they could ask for the word to be repeated or for other information, such as the definition or language of origin.
All went well for a time, with students successfully navigating their way through posers such as "usurious", "vaudevillian", "witticism" and "ecclesiastic".
The rounds continued throughout the day, with more and more students being eliminated until at last only two remained … and the stage was set for the tense finale.
The judge for the contest was Prof John Grainger, the pro-vice chancellor of the Dubai branch of Murdoch University.
"It's a very high standard," Prof Grainger said. "Some of the words I've never heard of in my 40 years in teaching.
"I think it's a great event. I hope in future it will include kids from all over the UAE and then possibly extend beyond that across the GCC."
The first spelling bee was held in the US in 1925 and the idea has since spread around the world.
The Dubai version is the brainchild of Renuka Singh, the managing director of the event organiser Exquity Events.
"The standard of the kids is phenomenal," Ms Singh said. "They've taken us by surprise. I've never even heard of these words before."
The contest has had unexpected benefits for parents such as Ravi Chowdhury, whose daughter Shushmita, 12, a pupil at Indian High School, sailed through the early rounds.
"We've been together until 2am and I'm really happy about that," Mr Chowdhury said. "I will have memories from the spelling bee of spending so much time with her."