A nice Indian American boy from New York won the national spelling bee on the yiddish word “knaydel.” That’s a matzo (not matzah, don’t get me started) ball if you’re among the perplexed. Whether the Bar Mitzvah-aged winner picked up his knowledge of matzo ball orthography from cramming the dictionary or soul food dining (he is from New York, after all) may never be known, but so the alpha nerd mantle passes from the jews to another model minority. Mazel Tov, Arvind!
Among the many reasons I did not win this spelling bee is that I would have spelled it kneidl. A quick tour of the internets and the comments in the above-referenced Forward article also come up with kneydl, kneidel, and more. For the purposes of the bee, Merriam-Webster has the final word, but when has that ever stopped anybody?
Romanizing foreign words is tricky business, and I had no idea that there even were any official “english” spellings for any yiddish words common or uncommon in American usage. You can try to map the hebrew letters of the original yiddish spelling, or go deep on the germanic roots, but to paraphrase both Peterman and Joel, you can blame it all on the dictionary but it’ll always be a kneidl to me.