Hornets’ Buzz over Spelling Bee win

WASHINGTON: You just can’t take their word for it.

The buzz is that the U S National Spelling Bee and its 2013 titlist Arvind Mahankali may not have been right on the matzo ball when it came to the winning word on Thursday. That’s the kvetch from Yiddish mavens cited in the New York Times, produced from the home of the largest Jewish diaspora in the world (New York City has more Jews than Jerusalem.)

Mahankali spelled out k-n-a-i-d-e-l, a German word of Yiddish origin — which is a dough or dumpling that Jewish cooks put in chicken soup — to win the $ 30,000 first prize ahead of 281 finalists. The Spelling Bee judges accepted the way he spelled it because that’s the way it’s laid out in Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, bible for all worker bees and drones.

Merriam-Webster officials defended their choice of spelling as the most common variant of the word from a language that is about as alive as Sanskrit in India, and is written in the Hebrew, not Roman, alphabet.

But linguists at the Yiddish Scientific Institution YIVO say that’s not so kosher. Their preference is kneydl, and they nudged the NYT into the etymological shemozzle, suggesting that the Bee graders may have been schnookered by the Indian boy — or goy, which is a Yiddish word for someone not of Jewish faith.

On Saturday, the hoary paper, in a needling article, reported with considerable chutzpah that not only is Mahankali, an eighth-grader from Queens, “son of immigrants from southern India,” but also “he has never eaten an actual knaidel.” Most reader responses did not accept the spiel though.

“Why are words that are not English, particularly words that do not use the Roman alphabet, like Yiddish, used in a spelling bee?” one reader asked, adding, “I have no animus here, I love Yiddish.. it’s just that English has more words than any other language — is it so hard to find enough tough English words to have a rigorous spelling bee?”

“The Yiddish scholars are completely off-base. The Spelling Bee is a test of knowledge of the English language, not foreign words. Knaidel is a loan-word from Yiddish into English. Once it was adopted by loan, it became an English word of Yiddish origin, and ‘Knaidel’ is the standard spelling in English,” another reader commented.

It was not the first time such a glitch was occurring at this year’s Spelling Bee championship, dominated in the final stages by boychiks of Indian-origin.

Organizers were shown up as klutzy in an earlier round when Indian-American Nikitha Chandran, an eighth grader from Florida, proved to judges that they had wrongly disqualified her for spelling the word “viruscide” the way she did, and that it was the third variant of the “viricide” and “virucide” — the only two entries in the Spelling Bee official dictionary. The judges agreed and corrected THEIR error, and Nikitha was added to the list of 41 semifinalists.

For the record, “viruscide” means an agent that detects viruses, not a reckless stroke that results in Virendar Sehwag getting out.

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Posted by on June 2, 2013. Filed under Pick of the week,USA. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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