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December 22, 1989 - Image 32

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-12-22

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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Chanukah, Hanukkah
Or Hannuka?

ARTHUR J. MAGIDA

Special to The Jewish News

W

ith Chanukah (or
however it's spell-
ed) upon us, word-
smith William Safire
devoted the opening stretch
of his "On Language"
column in the New York
Times Magazine to the best
way to transliterate the
name of the eight-day holi-
day into some form of
English that more or less
approximates the way it
sounds in Hebrew.

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The Times' own stylebook,
informed Safire, advises a
spelling of "Hanukkah."
Webster's New World Dic-
tionary lists both
"Hanukkah" and
"Hanukah," (with or
without a final "h"). The
AmericanHeritageDic-
tionary allows a choice of the
spellings offered by
(Webster's New World . Dic-
tionary, but advises that

both are variants of
"Chanukah."
This last spelling, wrote
Safire, was the chosen by the
Supreme Court when it
wrote its recent ruling that
the public display of a meno-
rah had both a secular and a
religious meaning.
Why did the court choose
this more phonetic spelling,
,Times'intrepid reporter
Tony Mauro asked of the
justices' public information
office. Because, came the an-
swer, "it's a spelling of first
impression," a response,
commented Safire, "that
hardly seems the way to
spell out the decisions of the
nation's unappealable
court."
Safire, never one to hold
back on his own decisions,
ruled that the English spell-
ing "which comes closest to
the sound of the Hebrew
word .. is `Hannuka' which
leads most to HAN-uh-kuh,
a reasonably close approx-
imation for those who resist
gargling."

Was Mencken's Bigotry
The Norm?

One shudders to think
what H.L. Mencken would
• have thought of all this talk
of the proper way to spell
Chanukah.
With the forthcoming
publication of Mencken's
diary, Mencken has been
revealed to have been a
ploset anti-Semite and anti-
black. Efforts are being
made to put Mencken's
nastiness in the context of
his time when prejudice was
supposedly nastier, more
common, and more accepted
in society.
Last week, the New York
Times' op-ed page ran two
columns offering this ex-
planation for Mencken's
vituperation. One was
written by Times'columnist,
Russell Baker, who grew up
just a block away from
Baltimore's Union Square,
where Mencken lived, and
was "profoundly unshocked"
to learn that Mencken har-
bored such prejudice.
"To have been utterly free
of such stuff in Mencken's
time and place would have
been astonishing," wrote
Baker. In southwest
Baltimore in the 1930s and
1940s, "we were all racists
and anti-Semites and much
more .. ." — a brave admis-
sion for someone who has
built most of his career

around genteel bon moth and
misty-eyed autobiographies.
"In those times," explain-
ed Baker, "we hadn't yet
learned to mask our
thoughts with pseudo-
civilized cunning. We all
spoke meanly of each other
back there, and it wasn't
quite as monstrous as it now
seems, believe me. You had
to be there."
- Someone who was there
was Gwinn Owens, a former
editor of the Baltimore Eve-
ning Sun, whose father was
Mencken's editor at the
paper.
Owens admits to "a power-
ful admiration" for what
Mencken wrote in his
published works and that
"without apologizing for
him, ... today's readers are
unaware how commonplace
racial slurs and stereotypes
were in the 1920s and
1930s."
Owens seeks, somewhat
inconclusively, to compare
Mencken and the virulent
anti-Semite, German com-
poser Richard Wagner,
whose operas one "can still
appreciate for their artistic
beauty. The work is
separated from the man. Or
is it?"
One writer who did not
hide behind Mencken's
times was Paul Greenberg,

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