Gadhafi? Qaddafi? Kadafi? The spelling mystery revealed!

You say Moamar el Gaddafi. I say Moammar Khadafy. Somebody says Moamer El Kazzafi?!

According to an ABC news blog, there are at least 112 ways to spell the Libyan leader’s name. With the continuation of the United States’ and NATO’s mission in Libya, why haven’t copy editors and style guides agreed on a spelling?

The reasons for the confusion
The problem is in transliteration, the way letters in one language correspond to letters in another language. Remarkably, there is no standard guide for translating Arabic letters.

Here is the Arabic spelling of Gadhafi: لقذافي. The first letter is pronounced like a “k,” but it is usually transliterated as a “q.” So why doesn’t every spelling start with a “q”? Here’s where not having a standard for translation causes problems. People with the Libyan dialect pronounce the first letter in Gadhafi as a “g,” leading some news outlets to follow suit with their transcribed spellings.

But the confusion doesn’t end with his last name. Some of the multiple spellings for his first name include: Muammar, Moammar, Mu’ammar, and Moamar.

Which spelling should we use?
Until linguists settle on a standard for translating Arabic letters into English, I recommend following the preference of the Associated Press. In addition to house style guides, newspapers look to the AP Style Guide to regulate everything from which numbers to spell out to how to spell “e-mail.” (Hyphen please.) The official ruling by Associated Press is: Moammar Gadhafi.

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