Image: A row of candles, aflame. Photo by Gil-Dekel/Pixabay.

What’s with all the crazy spelling?

Why isn’t there one right way to spell the name of that holiday that usually falls in December?

Here’s the problem: the right way to spell it is

chanukah

That’s right. It’s a Hebrew word.

All the spellings you see are attempts to make the word easier for English speakers, and some of those sounds are tricky. The first letter (on the far right) makes a sound a bit like a cat spitting. I like to transliterate it as “Kh” because no one is tempted to pronounce that like the CH in “choo-choo.” However, I’ve never seen the holiday spelled Khanukah, so I don’t spell it that way either.

The rest of it is pretty straightforward, except that the one that looks like a backwards “C” has a hard K sound. For a Hebrew grammarian, that means the letter is invisibly doubled. That’s why some transliterations have one K, and some have KK.

The bottom line is that none of the English transliterations are really correct, nor can they be, because Hebrew and English are quite different. So we are stuck with approximations like Chanukah and Hanukkah.

The real answer, of course, is to learn a little Hebrew.  Then you can skip the transliterations and go straight to the source!

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