Transliteration: The X factor

The conventional spelling for the winter festival used to be “Chanukah,” but that has been abandoned.

December 8, 2012 21:43
2 minute read.
Worshippers pray near a Hanukkia

Worshippers pray near a Hanukkia. (photo credit: Ronen Zvulun / Reuters)


Dear Reader,
As you can imagine, more people are reading The Jerusalem Post than ever before. Nevertheless, traditional business models are no longer sustainable and high-quality publications, like ours, are being forced to look for new ways to keep going. Unlike many other news organizations, we have not put up a paywall. We want to keep our journalism open and accessible and be able to keep providing you with news and analyses from the frontlines of Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish World.

As one of our loyal readers, we ask you to be our partner.

For $5 a month you will receive access to the following:

  • A user experience almost completely free of ads
  • Access to our Premium Section
  • Content from the award-winning Jerusalem Report and our monthly magazine to learn Hebrew - Ivrit
  • A brand new ePaper featuring the daily newspaper as it appears in print in Israel

Help us grow and continue telling Israel’s story to the world.

Thank you,

Ronit Hasin-Hochman, CEO, Jerusalem Post Group
Yaakov Katz, Editor-in-Chief

UPGRADE YOUR JPOST EXPERIENCE FOR 5$ PER MONTH Show me later Don't show it again

Last year at Hanukka, the Hebrew Department of University College London had much fun with the various spellings of Hanukka – Hannuka, Chanukah and so on, in the Jewish press. They listed 20 different transliterations, but failed to list the best ones, starting with the letter X, like Xanukah or Xanukka. This is because the use of the letter X for the eighth letter of the Hebrew alphabet is not yet widespread, even though it is the answer to a transliterator’s prayer.

The conventional spelling for the winter festival used to be “Chanukah,” but that has been abandoned and today The Jerusalem Post and many other papers use the transliteration “Hanukka.” But both usages pose problems. The CH is open to mispronunciation. It can be hard as in “loch,” or it can be soft as in “cheese” and “chopsticks,” so it has been abandoned and replaced by the plain H. It should really be an H with a dot under it, as used in academic circles for the eighth Hebrew letter, Het. But journalists, printers and the ordinary folk cannot be bothered to do this, so it is omitted.

Be the first to know - Join our Facebook page.

And that, too, leads to a lot of mispronunciations.

When they see Hamas and Hezbollah, the BBC and others do not know it is meant to be a guttural H and so use the nice plain H, which gives those alarming terrorist organizations pleasantly soft and endearing names that sound like “ham” or “his bollah,” whereas they are really hard, murderous-sounding names with a rasping first letter.

So what’s the solution? The Greeks had it, and we should follow their example and use the letter X, thus Xamas and Xezbollah, and Xanukka, and no Xometz on Pessax. The Greeks transliterated the name of Persian emperor Chashavarasha, whom we call Ahashverosh, into Xerxes. It looks a little foreign, but it is a good transliteration of the Persian name, and there is no mistaking the harsh beginning as there is in Ahashverosh (if we forget the dot under the first H).

The X for the transliteration of the eighth letter of the Hebrew alphabet has been recommended to its members by the Israel Translators’ Association and it is surely time it was adopted more widely, and especially by the printed media.

Xappy Xanukka!

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg is a Senior Fellow at the W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem.

Related Content

Trump ban
August 18, 2018
Record number of Jewish voters will reject Trump in November