MAKE:TNT Tools 'n' Tips

Chanukah? Hannukah? Hanukkah? Khanike? Hanookuh?

For me, it's always a moment of doubt: just how do you spell Hanukkah? Asking around the office, I found that a number of us were confused or at least curious at the wide variety of spellings we've seen, so I decided that this was the perfect opportunity to explain the concept of "transliteration."

For in fact, there is no one right way to spell Chanukah. The original word is in Hebrew, so in trying to spell it, we are trying to approximate the sounds of a completely different alphabet (which, in the case of Hebrew, rarely uses written vowels--just to complicate things). Most of the commonly accepted spelling of Hannukah keep the 'h' at the end of the word because removing it would change the gender of the word in Hebrew, so there is still a nod to the original sense, even though we don't have gendered words in English.

Transliteration is meant to be a "mapping" of one written language into another, with as little loss as possible in the doing. There is a complicated system to do so, and the rest of us have to deal with the final decision. There are many different ways to spell any foreign word, and fashions change as linguists, literature professors and pundits find more "accurate" ways to translate one written language into another. (Tolstoy was once Tolstoi, Crete was Krete, Muslim was once Moslem and even Muselman.)

(For more on transliteration, see the Wikipedia entry.)

So: Have a very Happy Khanike!