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Spelling bee controversy

You wouldn’t think a spelling bee could be controversial…

The winning word at America’s annual spelling contest, Scripps Spelling Bee, was the Yiddish word knaidel, spelled by thirteen year old Arvind Mahankali. America’s Yiddish authority, YIVO, however say that the word is spelt kneydl.

Arvind gets to keep his trophy as the bee’s official dictionary, Merriam-Webster, says his spelling is an accepted variation. In case you’re wondering knaidel/kneydl is a Yiddish word for a small dumpling (or matzo ball).

So who’s right?

The short answer is, arguably, everybody. Yiddish, a language mashing Hebrew, German and Slavic roots, was once standard usage for Ashkenazic Jews. The Yiddish knaidel, written in Hebrew characters, was derived from the German knödel—which means the word went through three languages and two alphabets before making its way into an American-English dictionary. “It ends up being a game of telephone,” says Peter Sokolowski, Editor-at-Large for Merriam-Webster. “We’re not saying that you can’t spell it any other way. We’re saying that it’s overwhelmingly spelled this way.” (Source:

If Yiddish controversies aren’t your thing, maybe you could try some Chinese lessons in New York instead?