We love Wordle for lots of reasons. Unlike other online time wasters, Wordle gives us just one chance a day to play. We can’t fool around with our guesses endlessly, play multiple games or chat with strangers. We can’t waste hours and hours annoying our spouse with our inattention to anything else because we’re staring at our phone (cough Words With Friends cough). Wordle doesn’t measure our steps or evaluate our sleep. It doesn’t suggest other games we might like. It doesn’t ask us to reveal our email, our birthday, or sign in with a credit card!
Wordle makes us feel smart when we get the daily word in three guesses. It strengthens family connections: Ellen’s family has a daily Wordle group text where everyone posts their scores. Throughout the day, they keep the group text going, shmoozing about work, friends and what they’re watching on TV. For her, it’s a chance to chat and connect with the kids – who cares about the word game!
Joyce and her husband pool their brainpower and play Wordle together each day. It’s spousal bonding time when they guess the daily word together.
So when we read about a new Jewish-themed offshoot called Jewdle, created by Alon Meltzer, head of a Jewish organization in Australia, we couldn’t wait to check it out. We were delighted that there was a Jewish version of Wordle. After all, we like to see the Tribe represented – in movies, on TV, in Congress and in games.
Jewdle says that any “Jewish” word is fair game – names of texts, holidays, slang, prayers and more. Words can be in English, Hebrew, Yiddish or Aramaic. And you get an extra letter – Jewdle’s words have six letters, while Wordle has five – because five letters aren’t enough for all those expressive, throat-clearing Jewish words like chutzpah.
As we pondered our first guess, we discovered the biggest problem with Jewdle. How do you correctly spell a word in English that started out with Hebrew characters? The answer is, “You don’t”! Since transliteration is based on how a word sounds, there is no correct spelling, and variations in transliteration can be found depending on the book – or article or printed calendar or essay….
The Festival of Lights is our worst-case scenario for transliteration. You can spell it Chanukah, Hanukkah, Hannukkah, and more – and all are acceptable. It’s sounding out in English – how a Hebrew word could be spelled. But since you can’t squeeze any of the common variations into Jewdle’s six spaces, – forget Hannnukkah and let’s consider another Jewish word that’s related to the same holiday.
How do you spell the spinning top with a Hebrew letter on each side? We spell it dreidel, the most common spelling – but that’s too long – 7 letters. So is draydle. Guess we have to go with draydl then. But no one spells it that way. And in Jewdle there’s no room for apostrophes. No B’nai Mitzvah. No Ma’ariv.
We don’t want to brag, but we know something about meshugge spellings. When we wrote the Dictionary of Jewish Words for the Jewish Publication Society, we not only had to pronounce and define words, we also had to spell them. We were tasked with creating a group of rules and then being consistent with them.
For example, you often see Yiddish words spelled with “sch” – schlump seems to have more oomph than shlump. But we took a clue from Yiddish experts who explained that the “sch” is basically a German approach. In Yiddish, the “sch” sound is made by the letter shin, which means that the “sh” spelling is technically more correct. So while we chose to start all those “sch” words with “sh,” we double-listed them in the glossary, so you can be sure to find your schmo or schmendrick.
Oy! You’re just asking for trouble when you try to transliterate a foreign language.
We appreciate the effort and good intentions that went into creating Jewdle. It reminds us of a similar phenomenon when the Christmas Elf on a Shelf had to move over to make room for the Mensch on a Bench. The Mensch’s creator, Neal Hoffman, had the best of intentions. His son saw the ubiquitous elf on a shopping trip one December and wanted one. So his dad created a Jewish version.
But just like there’s no one right way to spell a Yiddish word in English, there’s no right way to dress a Jewish plush doll. Moshe the Mensch has come under fire for his Orthodox garb; critics argue that not all mensches (not even most of them!) wear a stereotypical black hat. And why the tallit?
Oy! Some things just don’t translate.