Daily Israel Report

'Qaddafi' By Any Other Spelling Remains a Tyrant

At Israel National News, a controversy over the spelling of Muammar Qaddafi's (?) name led staff on an epic search.
By Chana Ya'ar
First Publish: 2/24/2011, 10:00 AM / Last Update: 2/24/2011, 2:02 PM

The search for the proper spelling of Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi's name is one that engages journalists around the world this week – and we at Israel National News are no exception.

A staff discussion over how to spell the embattled dictator's name – after many variations on the theme – led us to wonder who else has struggled with this issue.

What we found out is this: We are not alone, and the spelling we chose was common to others of good taste.

And to paraphrase Shakespeare's Juliet, who said, "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet," it doesn't seem to matter how the name is spelled - it still evokes the abhorrent picture of a murderous tyrant.

Writing in The Straight Dope, columnist Cecil Adams answers a reader who writes: Does anyone know how to spell the "mad dog's" name? Time spells it Muammar Gaddafi, the TV stations spell it Moammar Khaddafi, and my roommate tells me she's seen it spelled Qaddafi. Now all of a sudden there's a rush to start spelling it Gadhafi. What's the deal?

In attempting to answer the question, which he says shows why the West cannot possibly understand the man's psyche if they can't even decide how to spell his name, he found 12 different ways to spell the name, including Qaddhafi, Qaddafi, Gaddafi, Kaddafi, Khadafy, Qadhafi , Qadaffi and Gadaffi.

He complains that "Libya's UN mission, in an effort to spread further confusion, spells the name Qathafi, and I know I've seen Gadaafi somewhere. To make matters worse, the Library of Congress and the Middle East Studies Association, to whom one would ordinarily look for guidance, have a fondness for Qadhdhafi, which is an abomination..."  

Adams informs us that the Library of Congress lists no fewer than 32 different aliases for the Libyan leader, whose now-endangered 41-year-old regime has managed to hang on longer than any other in the Middle East. He explains that the problem is that there is no accepted transliteration for Arabic names, as well as no unique method for writing sounds which do not appear in the English language.

The last and longest variation names the dictator as “Mulazim Awwal Mu'ammar Muhammad Abu Minyar al-Qadhafi.” His official title, adds Adams, is “Guide of the First of September Great Revolution of the Arab Libyan Popular and Socialist Jamahirya.”

But in journalism, as Adams notes, it is considered de rigeur to respect the personal spelling of the subject in question. So how does the Libyan leader spell his name?

The man himself responded in May 1986 to a query on the topic by a class of second-graders at Maxfield Magnet School in St. Paul, Minnesota. At the bottom of a letter in response to the class, he signed his name in Arabic script and beneath it was typed, “Moammar El-Gadhafi.”

However, the New York Times, which printed an op-ed by what's-his-name this week, spelled his byline Qaddafi. So does INN.