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An accent mark.

Just one little squiggle — that’s what tripped up 9-year-old Dominic Do in a Vietnamese-language spelling bee held at Seattle Center on Saturday afternoon. It’s what made the difference between first and second place in this annual competition, which was part of the Vietnamese New Year celebration known as Tet in Seattle.

“I was about to cry,” said Dominic, of Seattle, whose undoing was a word that, loosely translated, means visit. “Then I realized I was in second place!”

Along with Saturday’s spelling bee, Tet featured traditional food, dances and music. The free festival continues Sunday in the Fisher Pavilion and the Armory.

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The spelling bee drew hundreds of cheering spectators, and dozens of good spellers enrolled locally in Vietnamese language programs.

The kid who got the accent right? That would be 10-year-old William Le of Renton, who sat on the edge of his chair throughout the competition, his body taut like an athlete’s as he craned to hear each new word.

Competitive? You bet.

At a basketball game the day before, he explained, he spent a lot of time on the floor, locked in a tussle with an opponent as they fought for a loose ball.

“Today I have bruises,” he noted.

He would put just as much effort into his battle with Dominic for alphabetic glory.

“We’re friends at school,” he said. “But when we realized we were the final two, our stomachs just twisted.”

Each knew the awful truth about the other: both were good spellers.

“I thought it would go on forever,” Dominic said. But unfortunately for him, there was that darn squiggle.

William could commiserate. He remembers last year, when he misspelled a word and was eliminated.

“It actually feels pretty bad,” he said. “You’ve just experienced something about life. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.”

Maureen O’Hagan: 206-464-2562 or

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