It’s International Hummus Day – or is it? While there’s a general consensus that we will celebrate the chickpea delicacy on May 13 there’s one area where’s there no agreement – how to spell the name of the foodstuff. Recipe site food.com lists hummus, hommous, humous in the titles of its pages dedicated to the creation of tantalising dishes, while the team behind International Hummus Day has pinned its colours to the mast with the name of their event. Yorkshire-based Humpit-Hummus, which has houmous and pita bars in Leeds and Sheffield, also opts for the H-U-M-M-U-S spelling.
In the opposite camp is most of the British supermarkets, with the Co-op, Sainsbury’s and M&S among those opting for H-O-U-M-O-U-S. To avoid any confusion we’ll stick to “houmous” in this article, unless we’re talking about other variations.
But what is behind the spelling anomaly?
“The reason for the varied spellings is that the word is borrowed into English from Arabic,” explained Simon Horobin, professor of English Language at Magdalen College, Oxford.
“Since Arabic uses a different writing system, there is no single way of transliterating the Arabic word into English
“The same problem affects the way that Indian words are represented in English, like the Tamil borrowing ‘poppadom’, for instance, which has numerous different spellings like ‘poppadum’ and ‘popadom’.
“Words like these are interesting since they challenge our (relatively modern) view that every word must have one single correct spelling.”
Horobin, who wrote the 2014 book Does Spelling Matter, explained that the common spellings in English are H-U-M-M-U-S and H-U-M-O-U-S.
One spelling which should be avoided is H-U-M-U-S because it could be confused with a different word which refers to the organic component of soil – not something you want to load into a falafel wrap.
“I suspect that another reason for the continued variation is that the pronunciation of the word,” said Horobin. “With two unstressed vowels (it) makes it difficult to guess the spelling from the way it sounds.”
Ben Lang, the founder of International Hummus Day who now lives in San Francisco, said he opted for the local spelling when naming the event.
“I also used to live in Israel and when people wrote it in English there they wrote H-U-M-M-U-S.
Others aren’t as fussy…
Whatever the spelling, it’s not going to detract from our enjoyment of dipping into a bowl with a selection of crudites.
And the introduction of a day dedicated to the food could even help iron out the spelling.
“Perhaps as hummus becomes increasingly prominent, via initiatives like International Hummus Day, a single spelling will prevail,” said Horobin.
Now you’re schooled in potential spellings of the day, what else is there to do to mark the occasion?
The Hummus Day website suggests eating the food for breakfast, lunch or dinner, posting pictures of the food on social media using the hashtag #hummusday and generally eating.
Events are scheduled around the world from a “huge hummus party” at the Hummus Club in Perth, Australia, to a giveaway at Nanoosh in New York, US.
What are you waiting for?