If you ever feel confused about how to spell that Jewish holiday around Christmastime, I don't blame you. There are multiple correct spellings, and multiple factions will try and correct you on this. Aside from Hanukkah and Chanukah, you also may also see spellings like Channuka, Channukah, Chanuca, Chanuccah, Chanuka, Chanukka, Channukkah, Chanuko, Hannuka, Hannukah, Hanuka, Hanukka, and Khanukah. You should probably stick with the first two, though. The reason for all this confusion is the hard-to-translate Hebrew alphabet, from whence the word(s) came. Since it's composed of all-consonant, non-Latinized characters, linguists have a devil of a time trying to sort out what is the correct spelling, leading to several kippah-kindled kerfluffles and all these variant spellings. The limited etymology of this word, however, is quite different from the spellings in that it's mostly agreed upon (apart from the transliterated spellings, of course). The Festival of Lights rougly comes from the Hebrew word khanuka, meaning "dedication". This was conjugated from khanakh, "to dedicate". This came (even more roughly) from kinekh, or "to educate", since educators dedicated their lives to teaching. Since this is such an old language, we really have no clue what happened before that, only that the word had the consonants h, n, and k.
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a senior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.