At the 86th Scripps National Spelling Bee last Thursday, all that stood between Arvind Mahankali and the champion title was a small German dumpling. The 13-year-old Bayside Hills, NY native correctly spelled the German word, “knaidel” in the Bee’s final round after over 2 hours of intense competition and took home the $30,000 cash prize.
Such a feat did not come without controversy—now native Yiddish speakers and experts are challenging the victory, arguing over whether Mahankali’s “knaidel” is in fact spelled “knadel” or, perhaps “kneydll.” Their main argument is that Yiddish has no standardized transliteration into English and thus pinpointing one, correct spelling for a word proves an impossible task.
Though the word has caused much controversy amongst the Jewish community, particularly with the YIVO institute for Jewish Research, Mahankali does not risk losing his trophy. Merriam-Webster, the Bee’s pre-established official dictionary, reports Mahankali’s spelling of the word as correct, and thus his title remains secure. The controversy, then, remains solely in the realm of feuding cultures and may inspire the Bee’s future organizers to be more aware of cultural differences in constructing future word lists.
Like Helen of Troy with her ships, knaidel seems to be 2013’s food that launched a thousand complaints.