The curious case of Zelenskyy's two Ys
Is there such a thing as woke orthography?
Americans have a reputation for being unusually disinterested in the rest of the world, but I don’t think this is completely fair: just look at how everyone reacts when we learn a new foreign name. I can still vividly remember the moment when everyone first discovered how to pronounce Ahmadinejad: it was in May 2006 when the former president of Iran sent an open letter to George W. Bush, criticizing him on foreign policy. Native English speakers on the left and the right sharply disagreed on the letter, of course, but everyone clearly loved saying his name. They loved making the ح sound (like ch in Loch) and they loved tripping over a five syllable name. Same thing happened when everyone learned to pronounce Iraq (ee-rock) and Hugo (you-go), among others.
So I don’t think we should be too surprised or make too much about the palpable excitement among Americans who’ve just discovered that the Ukrainian capital is spelled Kyiv, not Kiev. There’s a strain of performative solidarity here, of course, but I think Americans also just like learning new things about other languages and like being right about obscure things that they can correct everyone else on.
That’s not the only spelling shift we’ve seen popularized in recent months, however.