Great Neck sixth-grader Brian Liu, having made it to the semifinals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, failed Wednesday to advance to the finals.
Brian slipped up on the word "meralgia" — a nerve pain that is especially acute — after successfully making it through five rounds of spelling and definitions over two days.
It was a good run by the 11-year-old who loves all things Harry Potter, and who only discovered his spelling acumen when he won the bee at Great Neck North Middle School in January. Many spellers at the national level study for years.
In addition, Long Island's speller extraordinaire comes from a family who speaks mostly Chinese at home.
"Brian felt a little disappointed," said his mother, Shuting Peng, after he was eliminated. "Our family is very proud of him."
Starting out Tuesday among 229 spellers from every state and a handful of countries, Brian nailed word after word at the contest, held in National Harbor, Maryland. He successfully spelled tinamou, a species of ground-dwelling birds, and feral, as a state of living in the wild, as well as thenar, the fleshy mound at the base of the thumb.
The national spelling bee also asks competitors for definitions of words, and Brian hit home runs by correctly defining the word agoraphobia, which is a fear of open spaces, and fictive, which means imaginary.
By the end of the quarterfinals, the 95th national spelling bee was down to 56 spellers.
Round 6, the opening round of the semifinals, was tough: Of those 56 spellers, 34, including Brian, were eliminated, and more fell in Rounds 7 and 8. The finals are scheduled for Thursday night.
Brian missed moving on by just one letter. When the word was announced, he asked the judge to repeat it and identify its language of origin, which was Greek.
Brian spelled the word slowly, looking a little unsure.
"M-O-R-A-L-G-I-A," he said into the microphone.
Then came the dreaded ding of head judge Mary Brooks' bell, meaning he had failed. The word is spelled with an "e" in the beginning, not an "o."
His mother said Brian knew the roots of the word but forgot onstage.
Before Brian left the stage, Brooks praised the boy for making it so far.
"You already have a very long list of accomplishments, very impressive, including a violin performance at Lincoln Center," Brooks said. "We cannot wait to see what the future holds for you, and we certainly hope it will be at the Scripps Spelling Bee."
Brian is thinking about competing again next year, but he's not sure, his mother said.
Back in March, he had won the Long Island spelling bee by out-spelling 47 other competitors. Before that contest, his mother had told him to eat a big dinner to give him strength.
After Wednesday's big day, his mother returned to that strategy.
"We will get a big dinner tonight," she said.