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How Do You Spell “mʿmr alqḏāfī”?


Big questions surround the future of Libya and its capricious leader, Muammar Qaddafi. Here’s a smaller one: how do you spell his name? At On Point, “Muammar Qaddafi” is standard, but other media outlets have their own interpretations. NPR prefers “Moammar Gadhafi,” while the New York Times prints it as “Muammar el-Qaddafi.” At Al Jazeera, you’ll find “Muammar Gaddafi.” This 2001 article from Slate explains how one Arabic name can have so many versions:

…Rendering a language from another alphabet (or from a pictographic system such as Chinese) into the Latin alphabet is called Romanization.

A variety of systems exist to Romanize Arabic letters and words, but there is no dominant one. The International Journal of Middle East Studies offers one system, the Library of Congress a slightly different one. And not all publications consistently follow one system, either. Historical tradition for a particular place or name can win out, and so can personal preference…

You can find more of On Point‘s coverage of Libya and Muammar Qaddafi here, the revolution in Egypt here, and US policy in the Arab world here. Also, check out this lengthier list of ways the faltering dictator’s name may appear.

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  • Guest

    The CIA WorldFact Book goes by:
    Col. Muammar Abu Minyar al-QADHAFI

  • Ranndino

    I must say that as someone who’s obsessed with proper spelling of words and names I could care less how to properly spell the name of that nutcase. My preference would be for him to disappear so that no one would have to worry about how to spell his name.

  • Ellen Dibble

    To the tiny extent I know of Arabic, which is a little about how to write and connect the letters, I learned that the vowels are not written. You might indicate them with a dot or something, to help out foreigners (again, knowing almost nothing, I do understand that Arabic script is used in common, but the languages that use that script vary, just as French and Spanish use one alphabet but vary. So I just use the spelling that was in vogue in the 1980s, which was Khaddafi, and make notes about him as MK, as in High Mcky-mck, which of course reads from right to left, or something like yfaidag. I understand various consonants in Arabic might as well have been derived from the “expressions” of the camel, which has a very long and expressive throat. Hence the interesting sound kh.

  • Fred

    Well, you could spell it d-i-c-t-a-t-o-r and t-y-r-a-n-t and not be far off.

    Or try Murmur Alcodaffy? Moo-amour Alkadaffi? Ah, phonetics.

  • Ishmael

    Romanization of words and names that aren’t originally romanized is interesting, particularly in places where conventions for romanizing change occasionally, as when Peking becomes Beijing and Pusan becomes Busan. Also interesting is when people italicize those words or names, as if they need italicizing like book titles.
    There is no “correct” spelling at all.

  • Ellen Dibble

    I’m seeing that Turkey “romanized” back when Ataturk took that name (father of Turks). And I’m hearing Qaddafi speak English as if it were in Arabic letters, putting in the “missing” vowels: “There are no demonstrators at all in the streetis.” “There is no one againist us.”


    Shithead. That’s with a capital S

  • Maya9

    You have to wonder about people posting here about how they don’t care about the proper spelling of the name, or making jokes implying it’s not important. If you don’t care, why’d you click the link in the first place?

  • Ellen Dibble

    If Qaddafi had a name that were spelled the same way in all scripts, all the time, then the Chinese would have such an easy time expunging it from their websites. As it is, I’m finding new possibilities daily. Quadafi. Find that one, censors.

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