Sunday, June 2, 2013

Queens Boy Spells Knaidel to Win Spelling Bee. But is the Spelling Kosher?


Knaidlach (Knaydlach?) in Chicken Soup
On Thursday night, Sports network ESPN showed a live broadcast of the finals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, in which 13-year-old Queens student Arvind Mahankali won $30,000 by spelling KNAIDEL.

But the event triggered controversy among Yiddish linguists and matzo ball soup lovers. Is KNAIDEL the correct spelling? Shouldn't it be KNEIDEL or KNAYDEL?

The controversy boiled over into a front page article in yesterday's New York Times by Joseph Berger, titled Some Say the Spelling of a Winning Word Just Wasn't Kosher.

Reporting in the Times, Berger wrote:
Somebody may have farblondjet, or gone astray, the Yiddish experts say.

The preferred spelling has historically been kneydl, according to transliterated Yiddish orthography decided upon by linguists at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, the organization based in Manhattan recognized by many Yiddish speakers as the authority on all things Yiddish. 

The spelling contest, however, relies not on YIVO linguists but on Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, and that is what contestants cram with, said a bee spokesman, Chris Kemper. Officials at Merriam-Webster, the dictionary’s publisher, defended their choice of spelling as the most common variant of the word from a language that, problematically, is written in the Hebrew, not Roman, alphabet.
“Bubbes in Boca Raton are using the word knaidel when they mail in their recipes to The St. Petersburg Times,” said Kory Stamper, an associate editor at Merriam-Webster in Springfield, Mass. The dictionary itself says the English word is based on the Yiddish word for dumpling: “kneydel, from Middle High German kn√∂del.” 

If nothing else, the dispute is a window into the cultural stews that languages like Yiddish, not to mention English, become as people migrate and assimilate. The word was spelled on Thursday — correctly, according to contest officials — by Arvind V. Mahankali, 13, an eighth grader from Bayside, Queens, who is a son of immigrants from southern India and New York City’s first national champion since 1997. He has never eaten an actual knaidel. (It is pronounced KNEYD-l.)
A better choice for the spelling contest might have been Buccigross, the last name of the ESPN sportscaster who reported the event. Look closely at the opening of the video and you'll see that his name is misspelled by his own channel as John Boocheygrass. The name of his colleague, Steve Levy, is also misspelled as Steve Levee. Who says ESPN doesn't make misteaks?

(A SPECIAL NOTE FOR NEW EMAIL SUBSCRIBERS:  THE VIDEO MAY NOT BE VIEWABLE DIRECTLY FROM THE EMAIL THAT YOU GET EACH DAY ON SOME COMPUTERS AND TABLETS.  YOU MUST CLICK ON THE TITLE AT THE TOP OF THE EMAIL TO REACH THE JEWISH HUMOR CENTRAL WEBSITE, FROM WHICH YOU CLICK ON THE PLAY BUTTON IN THE VIDEO IMAGE TO START THE VIDEO.)




2 comments:

  1. Are you serious? Lets be honest here.....since when is there ONE way to spell ANYTHING "yiddish-ee?" REALLY...... Just the other day I was speaking with my friend in Canada who is a world known Master Baker....along with best selling cookbooks, etc.....and she wrote me an email with the word "BAPKA"......we went back and forth about the spelling, and she finally said "This is the way we spell it in Canada"....So I ask....is Babka any less delicious because of it's spelling? So goes "Knadel" or as my mother would say "Knanadelach".............NU???????? lol......lol......Thanks, Al M.A.

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  2. This is the problem with any artificial language. More humor please--Thank you--Ed

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