According to a 2009 blog post from ABC news, there are over 112 ways that news media has written the name of possibly crazy Libyan president, Muammar Qaddafi, since 1998. ABC, by the way, spells it Moammar Gaddafi.
Yesterday a piece published by the Christian Science Monitor shows that the Associated Press, CNN, and MSNBC spell it “Moammar Gadhafi,” the New York Times spells it “Muammar el-Qaddafi,” the Los Angeles Times writes “Moammar Kadafi,” and Reuters, the Guardian, and the BBC go with “Muammar Gaddafi.” (The writer, Eoin O’Carroll also wrote almost the exact same article two years ago, focusing on the particulars of Arabic pronunciation).
Everyone gives roughly the same reason “because of the difficulties of translating Arabic.” That’s so lazy. It’s because we have no standard guide for translating Arabic words.
Considering this decade’s news cycle, we should probably make one: Arabic has a more-or-less standardized written language (I know this is grossly oversimplified statement to make, but there is only one way to render this leader’s name in Arabic).
Looking at Google trends, the most popularly searched term for the man is “Gaddafi,” followed by “Kadafi.” “Kaddafi” and “Qaddafi” came in third and fourth, respectively.
Here is why we have trouble with spelling “Qaddafi”:
His name, rendered in Arabic, is “معمر القذافي,” roughly transliterates to “Muamar AlQadafi.” The part with his last name in question, is begins with a “ق” a Qoph, an Arabic letter that is definitely a “K” (if you ever studied Hebrew, its essentially the same letter as “kaf”).
If it’s that simple, then why do many places spell his name with a G? Arabic already has a G, which is not used to spell his name: that letter, ج , is called “gim” and corresponds to the Hebrew “gimel.”
Because, apparently, Libyans pronounce the qoph with the softer g-sound, even if Standard Arabic spelling dictates otherwise. That’s right, in all of Arabic literature, there’s only one way to spell Qaddafi.
This pronunciation detail is probably why Al Jazeera English spells it “Gaddafi.” Interestingly, Al Jazeera doesn’t use the “al” article when speaking about the Libyan president, but the New York Times does. And the latter spells the article as “el,” — note that the “al” of Al Jazeera and the “el” of Qaddafi are spelled the same in Arabic.
Ultimately, searching for what this unhinged leader is up to becomes really complicated. Perhaps if Qaddafi was as good at wielding power as he wants us to believe, then everyone would spell his name the way he did in 1986, when corresponding with some second-graders in Minnesota: “Moammar El-Gadhafi.”
It should be noted that when the AP published this story, the headline of it was “Second-Graders Get Letter From Khadafy.”
Now that’s just silly.
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