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With the long-time leader of Libya apparently taking precarious refuge in Algeria, his time in the limelight of Western media is nearing its end. When he’s captured and then again as legal proceedings of some form progress against him (and the nature of those proceedings is contingent upon who ends up nabbing him), he’ll momentarily be back in the news, but the peak of his media fame is surely in the past.

As a sendoff, I decided to delve into the very overdone subject of the romanized spelling of his name. There are several pieces that categorize the various spellings different media outlets have adopted over the years, but it’s a little difficult to quantify New York Times does it this way, Fox News does it this way. So, here is a graph that tracks the six most common spellings of his surname in books published in the US over the last four decades (click on the image to enlarge it):

1) Qaddafi

2) Gaddafi

3) Qadhafi

4) Gadhafi

5) Kadafi (which appears to me the most phonetically intuitive spelling)

6) Gathafi

“Qaddafi” is the variant used most commonly by the federal government, while news media generally prefer to use “G” rather than “Q” to begin the name (probably because some number of English majors end up as journalists, and failing to follow a “Q” up with an “A” is perceived by them to be of poor form!).

(Republished from The Audacious Epigone by permission of author or representative)
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  1. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    This is a good explanation, at least for standard Arabic:

    I'm not familiar with the peculiarities of Libyan Arabic, though if Wikipedia is right, it's quite a bit different than the standard pronounciation including the degeneration of ذ the into a "d" sound (normally it's the "th" in then), but the spellings that Wikipedia reports that the dictator and his son use suggests that they're preserving that sound.

    Obviously, the Arabic doesn't roll off an English-speaking tongue very easily, so most people just use some Anglicized form (#5 on your list would be heavily Anglicized).

  2. A few years ago, one the MSM talking heads (Brian Williams?) was in Qatar for some reason, and he asked a local how to pronounce the name. The local said there were several legitimate and very different pronunciations. He gave some examples, and they were really, really different. So depending where you are, Qaddafi's name might be spoken and spelled in different ways.

    I believe Qaddafi has a personal preference, but I can't locate the source.

  3. If you think Qadaffi is confusing, try Moamar (or is it Momarr?) on for size.

  4. Cad-half-y

  5. I'll go with "Muammar Gaddafi" since the Brits including BBC and the English service of Al-Jazeera uses it.

    That's two reliable sources converging on one transliteration. When in doubt, ask a local.

  6. Speaking of Qatar, it's always spelled that way, so the media aversion to a "Q" without a following "u" can be overcome.


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  8. To say that Kadafi "appears to me the most phonetically intuitive spelling" is rather like saying that "Back" appears to be the most phonetically intuitive spelling of Johann Sebastian's last name. That is, it appears intuitive only if you don't know that the German /ch/ is a different consonant from any in English, and distinct from /k/ in particular. The "q" is not the same consonant as /k/, but it's a consonant English does not have.

  9. Sykes,

    From the Wikipedia entry on Qaddafi:

    In 1986 Gaddafi reportedly responded to a Minnesota school's letter in English using the spelling "Moammar El-Gadhafi". The title of the homepage of reads "Welcome to the official site of Muammar Al Gathafi". A 2007 interview with Gaddafi's son Saif al-Islam Gaddafi confirms that he uses the spelling "Qadhafi", and Muhammad al-Gaddafi's official passport uses the spelling "Al-Gathafi"

    One of these, presumably?

  10. Captured….. Algeria……… Well isn't hindsight hilarious

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