Can You Spell C-A-T?

Remember the big spelling bee last week? A 14 year-old Iowa boy was disqualified in the 7th round for mispelling the word “Lubavitcher” by tripping over a ‘T’.

It brings us to question how the officials decide the correct spelling of relatively new words that are for the most part transliterations from another language. While common practice in American culture would be with a ‘T’ as the movement spells it, would without a ‘T’ really be incorrect?

10 thoughts on “Can You Spell C-A-T?

  1. If Lubavitch was a town in Russia, was if first rendered in cyrillic or latin letters? Cyrillic, obviously; the question wasn’t how it was first rendered, but its accepted spelling in the English language (whose words including lots and lots of non-Anglo-Saxon-origin stuff). In French, for instance, it’s Loubavitch. And the Russian PM is Poutine (tee hee).
    How would they judge the “correct” spelling on Hanukkah/Chanukkah/Hanukka? My take: that would not have been a fair question.

  2. its beyond a proper name – they defined it as “member of a hasidic sect”
    but it really means menmber of a specific sect.
    funny how they spell it though with a capital L which makes it a proper name anyway.

  3. well, the cyrillic vs. latin question is kinda off the point. like any other place jews live, the town’s name in jewish life was written in hebrew/aramaic characters, in the local jewish vernacular – in this case yiddish. for shetlakh and cities throughout ashkenaz, only the state authorities and a few seriously assimilated headcases use(d) latin or cyrillic writing in jewish contexts.
    and of course yiddish has a long-standing transliteration system for latin characters, created by the YIVO institute for jewish research (who rock). so, for any properly respectful or heretical yidishkayt purpose, it oughta be ‘lubavitsh’. and for good measure varshe, odes, vilne, and poyln (warsaw, odessa, vilnius, and poland).
    of course, the khabadniki themselves use a heavily german-influenced transliteration (the one used in the bee) that hasn’t been taken seriously for decades. i mean, “ch”? please. but if that’s the way they keep their hats on, who am i to insist on something that makes sense?
    but i still write khanuke, af yidish, dammit.

  4. a heavily german-influenced transliteration (the one used in the bee) that hasn’t been taken seriously for decades. Er, no — the English transliteration is more heavily English-influenced than anything else:
    i mean, “ch”? please.I don’t see why you’re so upset. In English, we use “ch” in exactly this way, as in words like “chat” ahd “chimney”. In German, they don’t; proper transliteration would be “Lubawitsch“.
    The YIVO system is a good one; its value is to be unambiguous in English and in French — as in, “kh” means only one sound, “tsh” can only mean one sound, and “ch” is dropped exactly because it means something different in English (tsch as in both chimney and chanuka) and French (sh as in chat), and so forth.

  5. I think calling YIVO orthography long-standing is a bit of an over-statement. It was only in the 1930’s that they got together with the Polish Yiddish teachers to hammer out a compromise that really put the onus on southern yiddish speakers (i.e. those that need to learn that ‘kimen’ ought to be spelled kumen)… and it was only 1998 that the Yiddish Forward decided to adopt the spelling… And as an aside it’s khanikie! damnit… 😉

  6. Interesting, the picture on the cover of that book, which I’d heard about but never seen, seems to feature a non-Lubavitch hasid, whereas the book is ostensibly mostly about chabadniks.

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