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Jewish World Review
Dec. 28, 2005
/ 27 Kislev, 5766
So what is the correct way of spelling in English the Hebrew name of the Festival of Lights?
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | (KRT)
Having pondered the question "What's up with all the different English spellings of Hanukkah?," we have one thing to say: Thank goodness Scrabble prohibits proper nouns.
The holiday is commonly spelled "Hanukkah," "Chanukah" and "Hanukah." Less familiar spellings include "Khanukah" and "Ckanukka."
You'd think there'd be a reason historical references, regional differences, something, anything to explain why one of the most oft-used words this time of year has more incarnations than there are candles (nine) on the menorah.
But the variations don't come from the Hebrew word it's been the same for thousands of years. It means "dedication," referring to the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem temple in 164 B.C. E.
Hebrew scholars and even the most persnickety of English-language pundits concur:
Spelling the word in English depends entirely on phonetic preference.
The "miracle of Hanukkah" refers to the story of the lamp flame that lasted eight days after the Maccabees reclaimed the desecrated Holy Temple from the Greeks. The Maccabees used what little olive oil they could find as they repaired and rededicated their
temple approximately one day's worth but the flame persisted.
The question of how best to spell "Hanukkah" in English incites first a chuckle, then a pause, then something like: "That's a tricky one" from editors at Merriam Webster, the Associated Press Stylebook and even local rabbis.
"Every time I spell it, I think I spell it different," said Linda MacDonald, who is Jewish and works at Tree of Life Judaica and Books in Ravenna, Washinton.
Paul Burstein, a professor in the Jewish Studies Program at the University of Washington, says those proficient in Hebrew really don't care or insist on a single English spelling of "Hanukkah." It's the Hebrew spelling that matters.
|A VOTE FOR CHANUKAH|
The old comedy album "Chanukah Carols," by Stanley Adams and the Chicken Flickers (along with Sid Wayne), included the song, "Let's put the 'Ch' back in Chanukah." In the song, Adams sings two parts, that of a grandfather with a heavy Yiddish accent bemoaning the Americanization of the culture and a young man complaining in the hipster slang of the day that it is time for a change, at one point saying that "a yarmulke is just a beanie with a button in the back. All the cowboys are laughing at me. I ain't going to do it no more." And later saying, "Man, that lox and bagel scene has got to go." |
The grandfather counters by giving the young man a Yiddish lesson and then says "Let's put the 'Oy' back in Oyving (Irving), please." He then sneezes and the young man says "Gezundheit" and the grandfather proudly says, "That's my boy!"
It's unknown exactly when the rare, undated album was recorded. But Rabbi Scott Sperling, who has a copy of the album, said it was likely cut in the late 1950s or early 1960s, a time when younger Jews were becoming more reluctant (or incapable) of speaking in the Old World way.
"It was not your grandfather's Hanukkah," quipped Sperling, who was a rabbi at Seattle's Temple De Hirsch Sinai, before moving to Washington, D.C., a couple of years ago. He now serves as director of the Mid-Atlantic Council for the Union for Reform Judaism.
Adams, who died in 1977 at age 62, was an actor, writer and Jewish humorist whose TV and film career spanned 30 years and included writing episodes for "Star Trek" and "Bonanza." Bill Kossen
Mostly, the confusion lies in that first guttural sound a throaty mix of "k" and "h" similar to the sound at the end of the slang word "yech," said Rabbi Ted Falcon, from the Bet Alef Meditative Synagogue in Seattle and Bellevue.
There's the "k" sound in the middle. And finally, do you need that last "h?" Again, depends on preference.
It's a common problem when transliterating words from
a language without the Roman alphabet into English,
Burstein added. People guess how to communicate the
This isn't always the case the different phonetic
spellings of "Sabbath" have regional ties. Orthodox Jews with ancestors from Eastern Europe
tend to go with "Shabbos."
The different spellings of "Kabbalah" have religious
significance. "Qabalah" indicates a scholarly or Christian
rendering of the Hebrew alphabet, Falcon said, while
"Kabbalah" indicates a Jewish transliteration.
James Lowe, senior editor at Merriam Webster, in
Springfield, Mass., said the version in their dictionary is
Editors at Merriam Webster decide on spellings of
words by reading magazines and newspapers from
around the country and other parts of the world where
English is spoken. They look for how a word is most
often spelled, Lowe said. For "Hanukkah," it's
"Hanukkah," "Chanukah" and "Hanukah."
Personally, Lowe sticks with "Chanukah."
"Because the first sound is like a guttural sound," he said.
"If you see the 'H' [Hanukkah], you're not gonna
pronounce it that way. But if you see the "Ch," maybe
Rabbi Falcon agrees; he spells it "Chanukkah." (He uses
two k's to represent the double strength of the Hebrew
letter.) But there's the danger of pronouncing the "Ch"
the way you'd pronounce the same letters in "church,"
which Falcon has encountered.
The Associated Press Stylebook, widely used as the final source on spelling matters by newspapers and magazines, goes with "Hanukkah."
"It's really debatable, but that's the one we decided on," said Norm Goldstein, editor of the Stylebook in New York. "We have looked at it again and stayed with it."
Microsoft Word's spellchecker recommends "Hanukkah," "Hanukah" or "Chanukah."
The Google search engine works well with "Chanukah" and "Hanukkah," but will ask "Did you mean Hanukkah?" if you attempt to search with just one "k."
John D. Williams Jr., executive director of the National Scrabble Association in Greenport, N.Y., mused that if "Hanukkah" were allowed in the game, people would be thrilled: "There are many different ways to spell it and a lot of high-value tiles."
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Young Chang and Bill Kossen are staff reporters for The Seattle Times. Comment by clicking here.
© 2005, The Seattle Times Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.