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Did spelling bee Mahakali get it wrong?

world Updated: Jun 02, 2013 00:32 IST

The national spelling bee spelled it wrong.

Or so say mavens of Yiddish about the winning word, knaidel, in the widely televised Scripps National Spelling Bee on Thursday night. Knaidel is the matzo ball or dumpling that Jewish cooks put in chicken soup.

But 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 knödel.”

In the United States, the experts have gradually relented on the spelling of words like Hanukkah, which they would prefer to spell Khanike. Spelling it knaidel, experts said, could lead to pronouncing it KNY-del, which would be wrong, or maybe just informal, since Jews in some parts of Poland did pronounce it that way.