On the real: how do you spell ‘Gaddafi’?

And no fair guessing ‘C-R-A-Z-Y…’ Seriously, there seem to be so many spellings for the Libyan dictator’s name, news outlets are having a hard time catching up. MSNBC this morning spelled it Kadhafi on the air, and Qaddafi on their Twitter feed, and the number of name spellings has been put at as high as 112. So how in the world to you spell Mad Muammar’s last name? (Or his first, for that matter…)

According to Mideast About.com, circa 2003:

Here, for example, are the different ways different organizations, several of them Libyan, spell the name. In some instances the very same organization, especially the Bush administration, seems keen on exploring as many different spellings as possible:

The Libyan Embassy in Washington, D.C.: Col/Muammar Elkaddafi

Cecil Adams of The Straight Dope in 1986 documented the creative ways news organizations went about spelling the name of The Leader of the Revolution (as he’s invariably and safely referred to in Libya, saving the writer the trouble of possibly misspelling the name). Here are some of Adams’ findings and more, as I’m sure the list can grow infinitely with time:

  • The New York Review of Books: Qaddhafi
  • The New Republic: Qaddafi
  • Time: Gaddafi
  • Newsweek: Kaddafi
  • McLean’s: Khadafy
  • U.S. News & World Report: Qadhafi
  • Business Week: Qadaffi
  • World Press Review: Gadaffi

The British press tends to go with Gaddafi, and I’ve always used Qaddafi, up to recently, when I’ve basically switched to the British version.

It’s enough to make you wanna holler. As the Christian Science Monitor noted in 2009:

However it’s spelled, the man whose official title is “Guide of the First of September Great Revolution of the Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya” is the world’s third-longest-serving current head of state (after the monarchs of Thailand and Great Britain, respectively), so this problem isn’t new. Way back in 1986, Straight Dope columnist Cecil Adams, who counted 32 known spellings listed by the Library of Congress, explained the proliferation:

The basic problem here is that (1) there is no generally accepted authority for romanizing Arabic names, and (2) the Mummer’s name contains several sounds that have no exact equivalent in English. In standard Arabic, the initial consonant qaf is pronounced like a throaty k, midway between the English k and the German ch, as in Bach. The second consonant, dhal–two dhals, actually–is pronounced like a double dh, which is similar to English th, only with the tongue pulled back a bit behind the teeth. Regional pronunciation differences further complicate matters. Libyans tend to pronounce qaf like a hard g, which has inspired a whole different set of spellings.

And that’s just the the surname. Variations on his given name include Muammar, Moammar, Mu’ammar, Moamar, and so on. Adding to the confusion, some writers add the Arabic prefix “al-” before his last name, which can also be spelled “el-.” And the “a” and “e” can be upper or lower case.

Usually news outlets just go with whatever spelling the subject prefers, but the Brother Leader has been of little help here. The banner at the top of his personal website spells it, “AL Gathafi,” a rendering that, like his attire, is uniquely his. But if you go deeper into the site, you’ll see it rendered as “Al Qaddafi,” “Algathafi,” and “Al-Gathafi.” Adding to the confusion is the “Al-Gaddafi International Prize for Human Rights,” an award that he founded, and presumably named.

Still, there’s something to be said for his laid-back orthography. Contrast it with that of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il, who once sentenced a journalist to six months of hard labor for neglecting to write the final syllable of the Dear Leader’s name.

Related: Gaddafi’s many scandals

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3 Responses to On the real: how do you spell ‘Gaddafi’?

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention On the real: how do you spell ‘Gaddafi’? : The Reid Report -- Topsy.com

  2. Rupert says:

    You can call him Al.

  3. Pingback: Kadafi, Gaddafi, Qaddafi: In The Age Of Search, News Publications Still Stuggle With Libya Leader’s Name

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