MONCKS CORNER - Eighth-grader Joseph Ebai will never forget "phenomenon."

Last year, that word was the Cane Bay Middle Schooler's undoing at his first appearance at the Berkeley County School District spelling bee, where he finished as runner-up.

Now, he'll have a special affinity for "innate" and "guitar," the words that made him the champ at this year's bee.

Forty students in fifth through eighth grades competed to be top speller Thursday, spelling words like diadem, adriotly, leonine and complacency.

More than half - 23 of them - were knocked out on their first word.

"The words were really hard," said Joseph, 14. "There were so many that I think I would have gotten out on."

He spelled words like "mammalian," "macrocosm," "aphasia" and "hoi polloi" as the competition was narrowed to just him and Hanahan Middle student Aaron Hinds.

Aaron spelled words that included "fait accompli" and "feng shui" before he stumbled on "innate," which Joseph spelled correctly before going on to spell "guitar" for the win.

Joseph, the oldest of five children of George and Laurah Ebai, said he studied the spelling list for about the last week.

"They took turns quizzing him," George Ebai said of his other four children. "We all did."

Joseph, Aaron and 10 other top spellers will now advance to Spellbound!, the Lowcountry's spelling bee, which will be held at Charleston Southern University's Lightsey Chapel on March 11.

They are (in order of finish): Ryah Dezzutti of Daniel Island School; Raynee Green of Cross Middle High School; Khalid Mitchell of Marrington Middle School of the Arts; Xavier Morant of St. Stephen Middle; Jaheim Pinckney of Berkeley Middle, Aynna Allen of Cainhoy Elementary Middle; Omar Aguilar of Hanahan Middle; Chaselyn Williams of Berkeley Middle; Andrea Rivera of College Park Middle; and Porter Dooley of Cane Bay Middle.

Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or @brindge on Twitter.