Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Question of the day: how do you spell "Khaddafy?"

If only we could agree on what to call the Guide of the First of September Great Revolution of the Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, my life would be complete.

How do you solve a problem like Libyan leader Moammar Khaddafy?

Not the guy, just the spelling of his name.

Among our options:
  • Gaddafi;
  • Khaddafy;
  • Qaddafi;
  • Gadhafi;
  • Qadhafi;
  • Kadafi;
  • Gathafi.
  • Muammar;
  • Moammar;
  • Mu’ammar;
  • Mummer;
  • Moamar.
Cecil Adams of the Straight Dope website explains:
"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."
Apparently you can't ask Khaddafy how to spell it, because he doesn't care one way or another (even his personal website spells it inconsistently).

Maybe that's a good thing: take Kim Jong-il, who once sentenced a journalist to six months' hard labor at a pig farm for forgetting to write the last syllable of his name. Suddenly that 50-per-cent-off-your-mark-for-a-typo rule doesn't seem so harsh, eh?

I was going to e-mail Khaddafy to ask him how to spell his name, but the "contact us" button is only "coming soon." Maybe I'll write Prime Minister Steephine Hurphur instead.


  1. Oh no! I seriously hope that his name does not appear on any of our quizzes for Journalism.

  2. I'm going with Muammar al-Gaddafi because that's what Wiki uses and we all know that you never argue with the Wiki!

  3. Another great one for pronounciation (more than spelling) is Novak Djokovic. I swear, every sports commentator has a different way of saying that name. And that one is on Gary's pronounciation quizzes usually.

  4. That's hilarious, Wade! I murdered that name while I was working for CJOB. I was doing a sports cast and I was like "Novak Djov-mmmbhg" I just trailed off and moved on to the next story. It was so bad that I had co-workers calling into the station to give me the gears about it. The problem wasn't the name as its spelled, it was those damn pronouncers they give you in the scripts.

  5. Don't worry, Dan -- ESPN's Brad Gilbert can't say Djokovic either.


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