November 28th marks the first night of latkes, sufganiyot and candle-lighting. That’s right, it’s already Hanukkah.
Or is it Chanukah? Hanuka?
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, there are 24 different spellings for Hanukkah.
Although the most common spellings are Hanukkah and Chanukah, as a society we’ve not been able to collectively agree on one right way. (What’s more Jewish than that?)
The root of this spelling debate, you may ask:
Simply, it can be boiled down to the challenges of transliteration.
Naturally, the word Hannukah comes from the original Hebrew: חֲנֻכָּה.
Since English and Hebrew are written in different alphabets, Hebrew words must be transliterated to the English alphabet in order to be readable in English.
Seems simple enough, but there is no standardized Hebrew to English transliteration system so it’s become a bit of a DIY case-by-case situation.
Hence, why there are multiple spellings for many Hebrew and Yiddish words (like Matza/Matzo).
In Hebrew, the word “Hanukkah” begins with the letter “Chet.” Since the “Ch” sound doesn’t really exist in the English language (kind of like a “j”sound in Spanish dialects) Chet has become a particularly controversial letter to transliterate.
Some people use “H” and other use “Ch.”
Another difference is the double “k” in some some spellings, like Hanukkah, as opposed to the single one in others, such as Chanukah.
“This relates to a diacritic mark known as a dagesh: a small dot inside the Hebrew letter kaf (כּ) which changes how that letter is pronounced,” explained Antidote blog, an English writing service.
“The kaf with dagesh in modern Hebrew makes the same sound as a single English k, so why double it?” they say. “The answer lies in Classical Hebrew, which used the dagesh to indicate the intensification (doubling) of a consonant. So the כּ in Classical Hebrew really did sound like two k’s pronounced in quick succession, hence the kk in some English spellings.”
The most common spellings are Hanukkah and Chanukah, but ultimately, it doesn’t matter how you choose to spell the Holiday. It’s controversial even amongst Jews, so you won’t be offending anyone.
What’s more important is that you know what the holiday is all about and how to celebrate. For more on that, check out our holiday guide.
Originally Published Nov 1 2021 07:35PM EDT