Gaddafi’s Forgotten Victims: News Copy Editors
With the death of Muammar Gaddafi, there’s one group of forgotten victims that may finally find closure: news copy editors.
In the 42 years of his reign, getting the correct (or a reasonable) spelling of his name has been the bane of fact-checkers and usage gurus throughout the English-speaking world.
Newsweek and the Daily Beast use Muammar GADDAFI, as does Wikipedia, though we used to prefer KADDAFI, as SNL pointed out in 1981. The New York Times uses QADDAFI. The U.S. government goes with QADHAFI. ABC News once collected 112 possible variations.
Why no agreement? It’s a problem of transliteration—rendering non-Latin names and words into a romanized alphabet. It’s why Mao Tse-tung is now Mao Zedong and why Benjamin Netanyahu is sometimes Binyamin. But for Arabic speakers, there’s no question. The name of the top man is Tripoli was مُعَمَّر القَذَّافِي.
Gaddafi could have dictated how he wanted his name officially rendered in English, like, say, Egypt’s Mohamed ElBaradei (Newsweek would normally render the ‘El’ as ‘al-‘), but he never did. Though rumored to be fluent in English and Italian, he never used either in public.
However, this August evidence emerged that may finally put the issue to rest once and for all. The Atlantic reported that a passport belonging to the dictator’s son finally solved the surname mystery. Raiders at a Tripoli compound found the passport, which spells the last name GATHAFI.
At least now we know what to put on the headstone.