It’s that time of the year when all the Jewish folks light candles around their houses to observe festival of lights called, Hanukkah… no, wait Chanukah… Hold on a minute!
Is it Hanukkah or Chanukah?
Well, it’s not just us. Many English speakers often get confused over the spelling of this festival. Perhaps it is because the name of the holiday is a Hebrew word and its English translation is quite ambiguous. There are around 24 spellings for Hanukkah according to the Oxford English Dictionary. Starting from the evening of December 10th, it’s an eight-day Jewish celebration, in which celebrants light candles on a menorah to celebrate the successful rebellion of Jewish people against the Greeks in the Maccabean War in 162 BCE.
Hanukkah holds a great religious significance among all the holidays in Judaism.
Jewish holiday Hanukkah has been spelled differently even in pop culture. For example, Woody Guthrie’s festive songs writes “Hanukah Tree” and “Hanuka Gelt,” while Adam Sandler pronounce his series of Jewish celebrity tunes “Chanukah Song.”
It’s high time we should clear this annoying spelling confusion once and for all!
According to Google preferences, the search engine giant always shows you the results with “Hanukkah,” even if you type in the aforementioned three spellings. “Hanukkah” has been the most accepted and widely used spelling for the past 15 years, with “Chanukah” being on second place in the search engine.
Interestingly, we don’t see a red line underneath two of the spellings as we type this in our word document... Looks like Word has already given up on the confusion!
However, Jews usually prefer to spell the holiday with an H, with one N, double K in the middle, and an H in the end.
Anyways, if you really want to go deep down and explore the actual linguistics behind this word, you’ve come to the right place! Let’s explore why the “Hanukkah” version is so popular:
Here's everything you need to know about Hanukkah and Christmas!
Why should it be spelled with an H?
The word “Hanukkah” starts with the Hebrew letter “Chet” in Hebrew. There’s no definite translation for this letter, though. Hanukkah has commonly found to be written with an H in many Jewish books, and with an H and a dot underneath it in some of the prayer books.
Instead of C-H, many Jewish people prefer to write Hanukkah with an H, because the C-H usually denotes a different Hebrew letter, a “Chaf,” while Chet illicit the similar sound to C-H in English. So, if you’re someone who doesn’t care about the difference between Chef and Chaf, you should probably stick with the English-letter version of the word, i.e. Hanukkah.
What’s with the single n, then?
In Hebrew, the N sound in Hanukkah usually originates from a single letter “Nun.” So, it’s widely accepted that the transliterated word should also include one N to accurately constitute the said sound.
Should there be one K or two?
In Hebrew, the K sound in “Hanukkah” comes from the letter “Kaf.” “Kaf” has a dot in the center of the letter when written in Hebrew; the dot is called dagesh.
Hebrew linguistics prefer to use double K in Hanukkah without any apparent reason. Though, if you write the word with one K, it’ll still be correct, because one K doesn’t make any difference when it comes to the sound.
Why does it end with an H?
In Hebrew, the holiday ends with a Hebrew letter “Hei.” It generates the same sound as H in English. H or not, it doesn’t change the overall pronunciation of the word just like the name Sara/Sarah.
If Hebrew includes the silent Hei in the said word, it completely justifies to add a silent H in English too.
Regardless of the spelling, it has the same meaning i.e. “dedication.” Jewish festival Hanukkah is celebrated by lighting candles on a nine-branched menorah over the period of eight nights. Other Hanukkah celebrations include eating oil-based items such as potato pancakes called latkes and jelly donuts called sufganiyot. Celebrants also indulge in other traditional activities like spinning a top called dreidel to win chocolate coins called gelt and also exchange gifts.
Holiday's Happy Hanukkah to all those who’re celebrating!
Also here's some viral memes and videos of Hanukkah vs Christmas!