The Scripps National Spelling Bee, which I wrote about here, is over, and the winner is Arvind Mahankali, a New Yorker who correctly spelled the final word, knaidel (NY Times story). The word is, via Yiddish, from German knödel (also the source of the knedlíky the Czechs serve with everything), and the first thing I thought when I saw the story was “Really? you spell it knaidel?” Well, that turns out to be a common reaction, and the Times has a follow-up story by Joseph Berger about the controversy, “Some Say the Spelling of a Winning Word Just Wasn’t Kosher.” YIVO prefers kneydl, which is how I probably would have spelled it, but:
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.
Berger reports on a lively discussion of the issue:
On Friday in the Bronx, a great knaidel debate was in full swing during lunch at the Riverdale Y Senior Center, where many of the 60 diners had already heard about the young spelling whiz from Queens. As they munched on brisket and kasha varnishkes, most everyone agreed on pronunciation, but there was wide discussion on how to spell it, how to make it and who makes the best one.
“K-n-a-d-e-l,” said Gloria Birnbaum, 83, whose first language was Yiddish. She teaches a class at the center in “mamalushen,” the mother tongue of Yiddish, to seniors who want to better understand “the things you heard your mother say.”
“I wouldn’t have spelled it with an ‘i,’ ” she added.
But Aaron Goldman, a former accountant and sales manager in a blue baseball cap, jumped to his feet and banged on the table as plastic wear bounced.
“That would be ‘knawdle,’ not knaidle!” he said.
May Schechter, 90, told Claire Okrend, who is in her 80s, that she did not learn the word until she came to America from Romania in 1938. But, she said, she did not think any of the variants were wrong. “You can spell it any way you want,” she said.
“As long as it’s understood,” Ms. Okrend agreed.
Fun stuff; thanks, Bonnie!
Addendum. I forgot to mention how shocked I was to see the correction appended to the Berger article: “An earlier version of this article said the Second Avenue Deli was in the East Village. It is in Midtown East.” What? (thought I)—it is in the East Village! But Wikipedia set me straight: “It relocated to 162 East 33rd Street (between Lexington Avenue and Third Avenue) in Murray Hill in December 2007.” O tempora, O matzohs! Le vieux New-York n’est plus!