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It's Kadafi -- at least according to the L.A. Times

A scroll through a newsy Twitter feed this morning as Libya’s leader addressed his country would’ve looked something like this:

Los Angeles Times:
LIBYA: German Chancellor Angela Merkel calls Kadafi speech 'frightening'

New York Times:
Qaddafi’s Grip Falters as His Forces Take On Protesters

Washington Post:
Gaddafi: Protesters were given "hallucination pills" by outside groups #Libya

Associated Press:
An interactive timeline of the Gadhafi regime: -ldh

Those are all about the same person.

The man whose name the Los Angeles Times spells as Moammar Kadafi is Muammer el-Qaddafi in the New York Times, Moammar Gaddafi in the Washington Post and Moammar Gadhafi in Associated Press articles.

It’s no wonder readers think the L.A. Times has a mistake.

Yure Kolaric sent a friendly e-mail on Sunday: "Hi! You have written Kadafi instead of Gadafi on the front page."

On Tuesday's article about Kadafi's speech, an online commenter called ScrewyWabbit was less forgiving: "Kadafi?? At least get the name correct! LOL Check out for the correct name. It's Muammar GADDAFI. Jeez!"

Just as there's more than one way to skin a wabbit –- er, rabbit -– there's more than one way to spell the Libyan leader's name. All of the spellings are transliterations from Arabic, and so all are interpretations.

The L.A. Times has used Kadafi since 1969, when the colonel seized power. The LAT's first comprehensive stylebook, printed in 1979, explained the reasoning:

Khadafi, Kadafy, Qadafi, Kadafi:

These varying transliterations of the name of the Libyan leader sum up many of The Times' problems with Arabic. They represent different, though similar, pronunciations.

For The Times' purposes, let us make it Kadafi, and let us apply the same principle to other Arab names:

a k rather than a kh or a q

an i rather than a y

(This also explains The Times' spelling of Koran, as opposed to AP's preferred spelling, Quran.)

Over on the Opinion L.A. blog, Paul Whitefield points out that The Times is in the minority in its spelling. The winner in Google hits? Wikipedia’s spelling: Muammar al-Gaddafi.

Maybe ScrewyWabbit was on to something. 

--Deirdre Edgar

[For the record, Feb. 23: An earlier version of this post misspelled the New York Times' spelling of el-Qaddafi as el-Quaddafi.]


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Comments (26)


Very L.A., I like it..!

I believe it should be spelled E-G-O-M-A-N-I-A-C.

I'm not worried about Moammar Kadafi. I'm more worried about his idiot son, Moammar W. Kadafi.

Seriously? That blog post did not explain anything, unfortunately.

The matter is very simple, assuming you have at least one person in your news organization who has passing familiarity with Arabic.

All we need to know is: how does he spell his name in his own language? Answer is here, albeit in small script:

The letter in question is "qaf", which is pronounced with a sort of guttural 'Q'. So at the very least, his name ought to be begin with a 'Q', not a 'K' or any other letter.

coming from an Arab-American, i think the Washington Post got it right, its the closest you can get while considering the bedouins pronunciation of his name so its Gaddafi

Cecil Adams of "The Straight Dope" dealt with this topic back in 1986.

"The basic problem here is that (1) there is no generally accepted authority for romanizing Arabic names, and (2) the Mummer's name contains several sounds that have no exact equivalent in English. In standard Arabic, the initial consonant qaf is pronounced like a throaty k, midway between the English k and the German ch, as in Bach. The second consonant, dhal--two dhals, actually--is pronounced like a double dh, which is similar to English th, only with the tongue pulled back a bit behind the teeth. Regional pronunciation differences further complicate matters. Libyans tend to pronounce qaf like a hard g, which has inspired a whole different set of spellings."

"In most cases where there is doubt about how to spell somebody's name, the usual journalistic practice is to accept the preference of the namee. ... in May, 1986, when he responded to a letter from some second-graders at Maxfield Magnet School in St. Paul, Minnesota. The colonel signed the letter in Arabic script, beneath which was typed "Moammar El-Gadhafi." This was the first known indication of his own feelings on the subject"

By Zeus' lightning! Why didn't the media verify the soon-to-be ex-Libyan leader's actual spelling in the first place?

If you were to follow a formal Arabic transliteration of his name, it should be "Qadhdhafi" and pronounced "qadh-dhaa-fii" with the "dh" consonant pronounced like the "th" in "that" and "aa" and "ii" representing long vowels.

Has he ever written it out in English himself? If so, how did he spell it?

Just a tip: always go with the NYT or the British. They're more in line with what's correct when it comes to international terms. Oh, and the AP spelling "Quran" is more accurate than "Koran." Which definitely has Orientalist and colonial overtones.

A little soon to be joking around about the mass murderer's name, especially while he's killing his people in the streets?

I wonder if the newspapers were writing fluff garbage pieces like this about how funny the name "Adolph" is in the 40s...


Hilarious that readers are referencing wikipedia as an authoritative source.

who cares..he's still a genocide, right?

It's spelled Qdaffy; the "Q" is silent.

Colonel Cuckoo has a nice ring to it.

My gardner is from Lybia and he says it's spelled Cardaffy.

Why not Gadaffy? That's probably the most accurate rendering in the western alphabet of how the name is actually pronounced.

The news organizations that spell it Gadhafi do so because that's the way the Libyan government spells it for English-speakers.

One would think THEY'D know.

Aren't there standard academic systems for transliterating Arabic into English? This is not the kind of thing someone can just make up on the fly, or by the LAT. It requires a thorough understanding of a language and its sounds, so as to provide unique English spelling for subtle differences and variations in the original language that are important. Perhaps there are competing systems in use, but one of those should be used.

The soon-to-be-ex Libyan leader once sent a letter to an American kid, in which he gave his own English spelling to his name. Wouldn't that be the best spelling?

See Slate, October 25, 2001: The Libyan leader had sent letters to American schoolchildren and a minister. The typed name over his Arabic signature: Moammar El-Gadhafi.

I dare the LA times to spell it three or four different ways in the same edition of the paper, on the front page - or better yet, in the same article. As this blog recognizes that there is no **one** accepted translation, why not utilize all the possible permutations instead of arbitrarily spelling it in what appears to be the least popular form? (What are you guys trying to prove by doing so?)

In the end, I figure everyone will simply refer to him as "that guy".

The CIA fact book lists the de facto leader of the Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya as Revolutionary Leader Col. Muammar Abu Minyar al-QADHAFI.

I learned that calling him Qadhafi is actually incorrect since that is the name of his (large) tribe. Confusing to say the least.

C'mon Times, you're embarrassing. In fact, even today's LAT (3-2-11) uses the "G" spelling once, in reference to "Seif Islam's harsh Feb. 20 remarks, which prompted protests against the $2.4-million donation the school had received from the Gaddafi Foundation for researching good governance in North Africa." Otherwise consistently wrong, or at least out of touch with the mainstream.

Another notable proofreading boo-boo: what's with that misused hyphen on the Editorial page, "Fence-in the mayor"??? On a headline no less! Shame!

In my youth, we called him Muammer (should rest-in-peace soon) Kadafi

This is the backup site for The Los Angeles Times. We'll post news and information if becomes inoperable or inaccessible.

this is a test breaking news post |  April 16, 2013, 1:45 pm »


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