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Locust Valley's Spelling Champ – Foiled by “Psephomancy”

By Priya Persaud

Locust Valley’s Safi Sajid made it all the way to the national quarterfinals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee competition, before crashing last Wednesday over the obscure word “psephomancy.” Safi, a seventh-grader who attends Locust Valley Middle School, was among 234 spellers to gather in Maryland’s National Harbor Center to compete in the national spelling bee. On Tuesday, May 31st, 2022, he successfully answered three rounds of questions in the preliminary rounds, which allowed him to progress to the competition’s quarterfinals.

In approximately two minutes, Sajid had accurately spelled “corsair” (a kind of pirate) – and “bennet” (a European herb with yellow flowers and pinnately-divided leaves).

He was also able to correctly answer a multiple-choice question about the meaning of the word “promontory” (a high point of land that extends out and over a large body of water).

Around two-thirds of the spellers were eliminated during Tuesday’s preliminary competition - but Safi made it to the quarterfinals.

However, the spelling bee sadly ended for him the next day, on Wednesday, when he misspelled the word “psephomancy.” The word was his first-round word during Wednesday's quarterfinals.

Merriam-Webster defines "Psephomancy" - which can also be written as "Pessomancy" - as a term describing the supernatural prediction of the future or events by examining pebbles taken from a stream or a container. "Divination by pebbles."

Head Judge Mary Brooks encouraged 13-year-old Sajid to not forget how far he had come by saying, “Safi, congratulations on making it to the quarterfinals. You were very impressive yesterday in those three rounds. And again, who knows - we may see you next year.”

Safi told Newsday, “I feel fine because I tried my hardest and the rest is up to luck. I want to try to come back next year. I’m going to keep studying."

After Wednesday’s quarterfinals, only 48 of the 88 spellers advanced to the semifinals. The finals were set for Thursday, June 2nd, 2022, with the spelling bee champion receiving a $50,000 cash prize.


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