112 ways to spell ‘Gadhafi,’ or whatever that goofball’s name is

I’m almost positive that in the early years of my career, the Associated Press spelled the last name of the dictator of Libya with a “K.” (Or was it a “Q?” It’s been a long time.) Then, at some point the AP Stylebook switched to “Gadhafi.” I sorta kinda remember this because back in the 80s my responsibilities as news editor at The Wichita Eagle-Beacon (since simplified back to The Wichita Eagle) included supervising the national desk (which dealt with national and international news), as well as the copy desk (the final arbiters of how things were spelled in the paper).

And every paper I’ve ever worked at conformed, more or less (there were sometimes local exceptions), to AP style. But some larger news organizations, just to be different and arrogant, have maintained their own, separate style bibles. And it sometimes seems that every one of them asserts its individuality by spelling Col. Moammar’s name a different way.

Me, I’ve been spelling it any way I have felt like spelling it at any given moment here on the blog. Because, after 35 years of following arbitrary rules invented to establish uniformity, I can do whatever I want now. (Freedom, Baby!) My only obligation to you, the reader, is to ensure that you know about whom I’m writing. And there are various ways to communicate that, mostly having to do with context.

And why not do whatever feels right, when there is no consensus among the MSM?

For instance:

As mentioned, the AP spells it “Gadhafi.” Now, anyway. (It’s frustrating that my Google searches have not yet produced the old spelling.)

The New York Times, with its usual “this is the way WE do it, so that, by God, is the way it’s done” manner, spells it “Muammar el-Qaddafi.” Note that they don’t even do the first name the usual way. On subsequent references, they drop the “el-” and go with “Colonel Qaddafi.”

The Times (as in the real Times, of London), spells it “Muammar Gaddafi.” The Jerusalem Post agrees. So, amazingly, does the BBC (an emerging consensus, where I thought there was none?).

The Washington Post agrees with The Times on the last name, but not the first: “Moammar Gaddafi.”

NPR, which isn’t a print medium anyway, sticks to AP style, apparently: “Moammar Gadhafi.”

But folks, that’s just the beginning. ABC, apparently aiming to make print media look ridiculous (which isn’t hard when it comes to something like this), has compiled a list of 112 ways to spell the guy’s name. I’ll give you a few of them, and you can go to the story on the web for the rest:

  • Qaddafi, Muammar
  • Al-Gathafi, Muammar
  • al-Qadhafi, Muammar
  • Al Qathafi, Mu’ammar
  • Al Qathafi, Muammar
  • El Gaddafi, Moamar
  • El Kadhafi, Moammar
  • El Kazzafi, Moamer
  • El Qathafi, Mu’Ammar
  • Gadafi, Muammar
  • Gaddafi, Moamar
  • Gadhafi, Mo’ammar
  • Gathafi, Muammar
  • Ghadafi, Muammar
  • Ghaddafi, Muammar
  • Ghaddafy, Muammar
  • Gheddafi, Muammar
  • Gheddafi, Muhammar
  • Kadaffi, Momar
  • Kad’afi, Mu`amar al- 20
  • Kaddafi, Muamar
  • Kaddafi, Muammar
  • Kadhafi, Moammar
  • Kadhafi, Mouammar
  • Kazzafi, Moammar
  • Khadafy, Moammar
  • Khaddafi, Muammar
  • Moamar al-Gaddafi
  • Moamar el Gaddafi
  • Moamar El Kadhafi
  • Moamar Gaddafi
  • Moamer El Kazzafi
  • Mo’ammar el-Gadhafi
  • Moammar El Kadhafi
  • Mo’ammar Gadhafi
  • Moammar Kadhafi
  • Moammar Khadafy…

That last one, before I stopped to keep myself out of Fair Use trouble, is awfully close to the way I think the AP used to do it. But I can’t say for sure.

So now you know. That is to say, you know that nobody knows.

12 thoughts on “112 ways to spell ‘Gadhafi,’ or whatever that goofball’s name is

  1. Brad

    By the way, one of the most fun things to follow on Twitter, especially if you’re a jaded journalist of long standing, is “The Fake AP Stylebook.” A sample Tweet:

    Fake AP StylebookFakeAPStylebook Fake AP Stylebook

    The plural of “pegasus” is unnecessary, since there’s no such thing as one, much less multiples, and maybe you should grow up.

    28 Feb Favorite Retweet Reply


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  2. Herb Brasher

    There is some variation in Arabic in the pronunciation of q, k, and g, so I think that probably has to do with the difference in transliteration into the Latin alphabet. When we see the English spelling of the word qat (a mild narcotic leaf that is chewed a lot through the Middle East), we naturally want to pronounce it with a hard ‘k’ sound, but the pronunciation in many variations of Arabic is more like our ‘gh’, but ‘deep’ in the throat.

    I think the pronunciation differences may account for the spelling variations of the first letter in Qaddafi’s name (possibly also with the ‘d’ or ‘dh’), but an Arabic expert will obviously know better.

    Reply
  3. Brad

    Total change of subject — isn’t it interesting how hard it can be to make out a language when you can almost, but not quite, hear it clearly?

    Hmmm. I didn’t SAY that clearly. I’ll try to explain: Yesterday, for example, I was at Nick’s in West Columbia having lunch. The place was fairly full, and a lot of conversations were going on. Diagonally across an aisle from me was a group of young men speaking with great speed and animation. I could not catch a single word of what they were saying clearly. All I could hear was intonation, rhythm, a stray consonant or vowel sound here and there, never even so much as a complete, distinct syllable. And I kept changing my mind about what it was I thought they were speaking. It was either Spanish — a language that I have spoken since I was 9 years old (and back then spoke fluently, although I’m very rusty now) — or Arabic, about which I know little. About all the languages have in common is “el” and several centuries of history on the Iberian peninsula, but when you can’t hear them distinctly… The men, of course, simply looked vaguely Mediterranean, which means they could easily be speakers of either.

    When I called the phenomenon to the attention of others at my table, they could not help (so it wasn’t just my hearing), although someone suggested Greek (since we were in a Greek restaurant). I had to admit that as far as I knew, that could be a possibility, as I know no more about Greek than did Casca.

    When we were paying at the register, so were the men from the other table, and I could hear their conversation clearly. They were speaking Spanish.

    Weird that I wouldn’t have been able to tell.

    Also, have you ever noticed how German sounds like English from the next room? I haven’t had that experience, but I’ve heard of it, and I’ll bet Herb has had that happen…

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  4. Herb Brasher

    I guess you are making a cultural reference to a certain play, either that, or I’m reading too much into it.

    But, well understanding German dialects, it depends on the dialect, of course. Swabian I could keep up with pretty much, though that depends on the subject. Franconian and Bavarian?–well, now that is another story. Schwiezerdeutsch? Not at all.

    The closest in the West I’ve ever heard to an Arabic gh is a Yorkshire man pronouncing the first ‘g’ in ‘got.’ Well, sort of.

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  5. Herb Brasher

    Oh, come to think of it, I’ve had the experience you’re talking about pretty often with British folks. But then I knew they must be speaking English; I just didn’t know what they were saying. Usually it was Yorkshire or Lancashire.

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  6. Scout

    I distinctly remember seeing that name spelled with a “K” in the past, also. I don’t know much about Arabic but I know a bit about English phonetics. What Herb says makes alot of sense. I’m guessing the Arabic sound is similar to our /k/ or /g/ but with a variation in the onset of voicing. Our /k/ and /g/ are identical except for voicing. If the Arabic sound has an onset of voicing that is between our /k/ and /g/, it could sound like a /k/ to some English ears and a /g/ to others, which could account for the varying transliterations. But I don’t really know. Just guessing.

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  7. Brad

    AHA! I found what I was remembering but could not confirm, when I wrote this post the other day. Here’s the straight dope:

    “AP used to spell it Khadafy, but changed to Gadhafi almost 25 years ago…”

    I was right the first time! It was with a K!

    Also — when I asked him to share HIS memory of what happened, Mike Fitts said he seemed to recall that what happened was, somebody at AP finally thought to WRITE to “Khadafy” and ASK him how to spell it, and that’s what they changed it to…

    That makes a great story, but apparently isn’t exactly right. What really happened, according to this article at the AP Stylebook’s Facebook page (the real one, not the spoof), was that “Khadafy” wrote letters to some American schoolchildren, and spelled it “Moammar El-Gadhafi.”

    Hey, it was a long time ago. But Mike was on the right track.

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