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Subject: Re: The spelling of the name of a weapon and the Klingon alphabet.


the story behind the spelling of the word Bat'leth


Newsgroup: Klingon Usenet Forum
Date: 20 October 1998


TPO wrote:
> bat'leth is the screwed up Federation way.

David Trimboli answered:
> Oh no, no, no. "Bat'telh" is the screwed up Federation way. The only
> "official" source I've seen spell it "bat'leth" is Marc Okrand, who
> obviously got tired of pretending that "bat'telh" came even close to
> being correct.
> Myself, I always use {betleH}.
> SuStel

The various contributors to this thread have pretty much said all there is to say about betleH and its various Federation spellings (bat'telh, bat'leth). But I'll add a little anyway.

From the point of view of the Klingon language, the word is betleH. This is not an official "spelling" (the only official spelling would be in Klingon characters); it's just a standardized transcription of spoken Klingon that tells the reader how to pronounce the word (or at least gives a close approximation).

When the word was originally written down by Federation scouts (or whoever the first Federation folks were who tried to write it down), the details of the Klingon language were unknown and there were undoubtedly some mishearings and/or mistranscriptions. Some early transcriber(s) apparently wrote "bat'telh" while another (or others) wrote "bat'leth." The first may have been a mishearing of (or been influenced by) Klingon batlh 'etlh, literally "sword of honor," while the second may have been an attempt to write betleH, with its decidedly non-Federation Standard final consonant.

The spelling "bat'telh" apparently got passed around a lot and became a common way to write the word. Since almost no one in the Federation, at that time, had heard the word spoken by a Klingon, they would have no way to know whether "bat'telh" was the best choice. For some reason, later on, the alternate spelling, "bat'leth," came to be used more frequently than "bat'telh" and eventually it came to be the accepted one for use in the Federation.

As a result of the spelling "bat'leth," many non-Klingons call the weapon by a name that resembles that spelling (they say "BAT-leth") rather than by something closer to the actual Klingon betleH. This (sort of) parallels referring to the Russian capital as Moscow in English rather than using the Russian pronunciation "moskva." The point is that "Moscow" is an acceptable English way to pronounce the name of the city, but it's not the Russian way. Similarly, "bat'leth" is an acceptable Federation Standard way to pronounce the name of the weapon, but it's not the Klingon way.

[The "real" story, of course, is a little different. The first time the word ever comes up in Star Trek, as far as I know, is in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Reunion." In that script (and others), it is spelled "bat'telh," so that is where that spelling in Star Trek books and so forth comes from. When the word is actually pronounced in the episode, however, Worf says something more like "BAT-leH" (where "H" is a harsh sound similar to the "ch" in German "Bach"), and eventually scripts started spelling the word "bat'leth," which seems a fusion of the original spelling and the pronunciation. Similarly, publications about Star Trek used the "bat'telh" spelling for a while, but now everyone seems to have switched over to "bat'leth."]

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