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How Do You Spell “mʿmr alqḏāfī”?

(AP)

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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