Merriam-Webster Word of the Day: Dreidel

The Merriam-Webster Word of the Day is dreidel. Read on for what it means, how it’s used, and more.

What It Means

dreidel is a 4-sided toy marked with Hebrew letters and spun like a top in a game of chance. The game, played by children especially at Hanukkah, is also called dreidel.

// The adults chatted in the living room while the children amused themselves by playing dreidel.

// She spun the dreidel with gusto.

DREIDEL in Context

“The cover of this exuberant book hints at the fun within as a group of diverse children play a game of dreidel with a menorah shining behind them indicating that it’s the first night of Hanukkah.” — Kirkus Reviews, 1 Sept. 2022

Did You Know?

If your dreidel is spinning beneath the glow of the menorah, it’s probably the Jewish festival of lights known as Hanukkah. The holiday celebrates the miracle of a small amount of oil—enough for one day—burning for eight days in the Temple of Jerusalem. And though it’s a toy, the dreidel’s design is very much an homage: on each of its four sides is inscribed a Hebrew letter—nungimelhe, and shin—which together stand for Nes gadol haya sham, meaning “A great miracle happened there.” (In Israel, the letter pe, short for po, “here,” is often used instead of shin). In the game of dreidel, each letter bears its own significance: the dreidel is spun and depending on which letter is on top when it lands, the player’s currency, or gelt, is added to or taken from the pot. Nun means the player does nothing; gimel means the player gets everything; he means the player gets half; and shin means the player adds to the pot. Wherever you land on holiday traditions, we wish you words of gimel: gratitude, grub, and, of course, gaiety.

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