Sunday, July 14, 2013

Spelling of Humus

In the recipe for black bean burgers I added hummus which is a paste made mainly from chickpeas and sesame seeds.  My brother did not like the way I spelled “humus” in the article.  The word is from the  Arabic . حمّص  ummu) meaning "chickpeas," and the complete name of the prepared spread in Arabic is حمّص بطحينة ummu bi aīna, which means "chickpeas with tahini".  The word has passed into Hebrew  as spelled חומוס (ḥumus)  (i.e. ḥet-shuruk-mem-shuruk-sameḥ)  A shuruk is a vowel letter and that looks like a vav with a dot in the middle. There is no dagesh (dot) in the mem which means it is not doubled in sound. The syllable divides between the first shuruk and the mem.

Using the systematic Romanization table from Library of Congress for Hebrew the word should be spelled, “humus.”[1]  The accent is on the first syllable, following the common practice of the Hebrew accent on the penultimate syllable.  The first syllable is open and the vowel is long making the “u” long.  In academic publications, the “h” would have a dot underneath to indicate the /kh/ sound and differentiate it from the /h/ sound. 
Transliterations from Hebrew and Arabic are not always the same as systematic transliteration.  On American food labels the usually spelling is “hummus.”  In British English and in Israeli usage "houmous" is the standard spelling.  Other spellings include hummus, hummous, hommos, humos, hommus and hoummos.  It hurts my ears when I hear the word with a short “u,” since that sound is incorrect.  Since most Americans also cannot pronounce the /kh/ sound, I am little more forgiving.

Below are some sample labels.

[1] See Alacalay, Reuvan. The complete Hebrew-English dictionary.  Hartford, Connecticut, 1965.  page 727.


Geoffrey said...

There is, of course, the complicating matter of the word humus of Latin origin, which refers to decaying organinc matter.

Daniel D. Stuhlman said...

Geoffrey --

English has many homonyms because of multiple sources of our language. The word "humus" that you mention while spelled the same has a different pronunciation. You can also find many words that have multiple dictionary definitions.