The top dogs of the spelling bee world have convened in Maryland this week to battle it out for the title of national spelling champion. Up against words like “knish,” “howitzer,” “flamenco” and “ergonomic,” the young contestants of the 2015 Scripps National Spelling Bee face stiff competition as they spell their way to the front of the group. The finals are just a day away, which means the pack is slowly shrinking. 

The Scripps spelling bee has taken place every year in the U.S. since 1925, making this year’s national spelling bee the competition’s 88th edition. Over 280 spellers from all 50 states and countries as far away as China, Ghana and South Korea gathered at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center just outside Washington, D.C. this week to participate. This year’s Scripps National Spelling Bee finals are expected to take place Thursday at 8:00 p.m. EDT. 

The preliminaries began Tuesday. This year’s semifinal round is expected to air Thursday from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. EDT on ESPN 2 and ESPN 3. The championship finals are slated for later that night, from 8:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. EDT on ESPN. ESPN customers can watch the event via an online live stream here.

The competition’s youngest speller was Cameron Keith of Longmont, Colorado, who was nine. The spellers ranged in age from nine to 15, however the majority of contestants were between the ages of 12 and 14, according to the competition’s website.

Contestants have historically been born in the U.S., but the competition accepts students from all over the world. Competitors must be 15 years of age or younger and cannot be past the eighth grade. Spellers must win a regional competition before they qualify for a Scripps spelling bee.

This year’s contestant pool was 51 percent girls and 49 percent boys. Three spellers have older siblings who previously won the spelling bee competition.

Last year, the winning words were "feuilleton," which is a section of a European newspaper reserved for general entertainment, and “stichomythia,” which is an exchange between characters in a Greek play. Two competitors took home the top spot in 2014 when the contest came down to a tie. Sriram Hathwar, an eighth grader from Painted Post, New York, and Ansun Sujoe, a seventh grader from Fort Worth, Texas, shard the trophy – the first time the competition saw two finalists win since 1962.  

"We both know the competition is against the dictionary, not against each other," Hathwar said. "I'm happy to share the trophy with him."