Last Thursday the Scripps National Spelling Bee was won by 13-year-old Arvind Mahankali when he successfully spelled “knaidel,” a word for “matzoh ball.” Surprised a young man with an Indian name can spell a Yiddish-derived word? Kid’s from Queens, fahcryinoutloud! As Lenny Bruce said, “If you live in New York … you are Jewish.”
But you think any aspect of Jewish-American culture is without controversy, especially in New York City? Fuggetaboutit.
The word for matzoh meal dumpling entered American English from Yiddish, a Germanic language that European Jews wrote in Hebrew characters, so English spellings differ: Knaidel, kneydl, kneydel, knaidle, kneidel, kneidle, and so on. The equivalent German word for dumpling doesn’t help: “Knödel,” with an umlaut, yet. Gevalt. Personally, we’ve never used any of the singular forms, always the plural, kneidlach. After all, what Jewish mother serves just one?
Note to spelling kvetches: The authority for the Scripps National Spelling Bee is Webster’s Third New International Dictionary (2002) published by Merriam-Webster, a subsidiary of Encyclopædia Britannica.
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