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’ http://lat.ms/hrksdD
New York Times:
Qaddafi’s Grip Falters as His Forces Take On Protesters http://nyti.ms/hkrpaz
Gaddafi: Protesters were given “hallucination pills” by outside groups http://wapo.st/eD4zvx #Libya
An interactive timeline of the Gadhafi regime: http://apne.ws/ew0tDx -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 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Libya 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.
[For the record, Feb. 23: An earlier version of this post misspelled the New York Times’ spelling of el-Qaddafi as el-Quaddafi.]
This column was originally published on LATimes.com on Feb. 22, 2011.