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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: February 22, 2011 @ 11:11 am

    You say Gaddafi, we say Gadafy, let’s call the whole thing off…

    Hugh Linehan

    With bloody violence continuing in Libya today, it may seem trite to discuss the correct spelling of the name of that country’s dictator. But online readers of The Irish Times have become highly exercised by what they see as our ‘incorrect’ spelling of Muammar Gadafy’s name.

    ‘Gadafy appears on Libyan TV in show of control’ read the headline of our later editions this morning, following the Libyan leader’s brief and Jacques Tati-esque address to his nation last night.

    ‘Please advise those writing headlines about Libya that the correct spelling of the Dictators name is Gadaffi not Gadafy as shown on the front page of your website. Pathetic,’ wrote one correspondent.

    ‘In all my life, and for all the years I have been reading about this guy, I have NEVER seen his name spelled GADAFY. Did you do that so that the dumb Irish people could read it phonetically, or is this the way it should have been printed for all those years? I am dying to know…’ wrote another.

    Our spelling has also prompted a debate thread on Boards.ie, while the good folk at Broadsheet.ie helpfully point out that a Google search reveals that we’re the only news organisation to use this version. ‘It’s a solo run, dude,’ they comment.

    Perhaps so. But, as our Foreign Correspondent Mary Fitzgerald points out in a recent tweet, “transliteration from the Arabic throws up several possible phonetic spellings…so New York Times uses el-Qaddafi, BBC uses Gaddafi, LA Times use Kadafi”

    And, according to this 2009 post from ABC News, there are 112 different English-language spellings of Gadafy’s name on record.

    Having discussed the matter with our Foreign Editor, it appears the Irish Times version is the same as that used by the Guardian up until a couple of years ago (it now prefers Gaddafi). To my eyes, our version looks slightly archaic, perhaps even contrarian, but to describe it as ‘wrong’ would be, er, wrong.

    The Irish Times Stylebook contains several such unusual rulings, some of which cause unease among the editorial staff (acronyms are a particularly thorny issue). But from the point of a view of an organisation like ours which publishes more than 100,000 words a day, the most important thing is consistency and adherence to a clear set of agreed rules. How well we achieve that is a story for another day…

    *Update from our Foreign Policy Editor, Paddy Smyth:

    ‘The paper’s  and the online edition’s house style on his name, used first in 1971  and then from 1981 consistently with some lapses, is Col Muammar Gadafy. This version, one of many acceptable uses, is based on a direct transliteration from the Arabic.’

    • The official state news agenct, Jana, calles him “al-Qathafi” or more properly “The Leader of the Revolution”. “Col. Muammar Abu Minyar al-QADHAFI” is how he’s known to the CIA. Never seen much use of “Gadafy” I must admit, seems slightly unconventional. I’m no expert but translators seem to prefer to use “i” over “y” in these matters. The transliteration problem emerges for particular names repeatedly. The current Prime Minister designate of Lebanon is another case in point: “Miqati”, “Mikati”, “Mikadi” etc. (but no “Mikaty”). It made it hard to follow events around the fall of Saad Hariri’s Government online with divergent transliteration conventions but it seemed most people settled on “Mikati”. “Gaddafi” seems the most poplar interpretation and the one twitter has taken to as far as I can see. I suppose getting it right is important in optimising for the web but of course “Gadafy” can be justified and the would-be pedants can buzz off, but whether you want to be the only news source using that version is another question entirely.

    • Jon Hanna says:

      You could try spelling it القذافي for a while, just so that nobody would complain again when you switched back.

    • Peter F says:

      Your first complainant might take a look at his own issues first. ‘…the Dictators name..’? tut tut.

    • Stephen Macken says:

      Surely the fact that The Guardian is now using the much more common “Gaddafi” should have alerted you to the possibility of being seen as incorrect, whether you are or not. If you used the commonly perceived “correct” spelling, as used by the majority of English language media outlets, wouldn’t it eliminate the need to defend your position. Perception is reality after all. In all the years I have seen that man’s name spelt in English and the many variations thereof, your spelling, Gadafy, is a first for me. It was enough to make readers question your accuracy and that should be enough to make you question your decision. Your credibility is at stake here and no blog posting is going to fix that for you.

    • Pat Walsh says:

      I agree that the spelling of proper names is open to interpretation but I’ve noticed that the frequency of grammar, punctuation and spelling errors appearing on the Irish Times’ website has increased lately. Broadsheet.ie points out a number of them every week and I highlight four of them that turned up in one article:


      These errors appear more often on the website than in the printed edition, which would suggest that more care is taken with that version than the electronic one

    • Jayson Raye says:

      Gadafy – (as used by the Guardian and the Irish Times)
      Gaddafi – (probably the most common, as used by most newspapers and this website)
      Gadaffi – (as used by the Financial Times)
      Ghadaffy – (as used by London’s Evening Standard, although not for long)
      Gadhafi – (as used by the Wall Street Journal)
      Kadafi – (as used by the Los Angeles Times)
      Kaddafi – (as used by Newsweek)
      Qaddafi – (as used by the New York Times, the International Herald Tribune, the Economist and the New Yorker)

    • Bellminx says:

      It just don’t fly..!

    • John B says:

      The Irish Times has always spelt it Gadafy. I always thought it just didn’t look right for some reason – aesthetics, maybe?

      By the way, was the Irish Times Stylebook ever published (the Guardian’s – and other newspapers’ – can be purchased in all good bookshops)?

    • ed says:

      why not go to the man himself to find out: http://www.algathafi.org/html-english/cat_1_3.htm

    • Richard says:

      Apart from it being in the stylebook, what’s the underlying principle for this spelling? Is it consistent with other transliterations, and if so, can you give examples?

    • David Monks says:

      القذافي is transliterated literally ‘LQDHAFY.
      Arabic does not generally write vowels
      The ‘ is a consonant that is generally used to indicated an A at the beginning of the definite article, thus AL.
      The Q is pronounces very far back in the mouth
      The ‘DH’ btw, is one letter – s very softened ‘D’, almost like ‘th’ in English.

      The final letter is best rendered as a’ Y’ rather than an’ I’ because it is a consonant serving to indicate a long vowel as in English ‘EE’.

      On this basis, the name is most accurately transliterated Al-Qadhafy, always remembering the dh is a soft d and not two separate letters.

    • A D Splice says:

      The use of the “i” over “y” is preferred for non-native speakers comprehension : http://www.lemonde.fr/ and http://www.bild.de/. Who wants to deal with “Y”. Still, hardly a problem for the Irish Times readership. Plus, if you want to damage yourselves in the SEO market, then knock yourselves out.

    • Beau Tux says:

      Poor old Gadfly is the spitting image of Myckey Rourke these days..! PSURG, no doubt..!

    • Hugh Linehan says:

      Major Alfonso @1 and AD Splice@12. Your points about search optimisation are irrefutable.

      Stephen @4. Keeping the Stylebook up to date is indeed important and I agree that if that task is neglected it can undermine the newspaper’s authority. But jumping too quickly on what may prove to be passing fads can be equally undermining (not applicable in this case, I agree). It’s always a balancing act.

      Richard@10. I refer you to the erudite contributions @11 and 12

      Pat @5. You are correct. Copy for the newspaper is subject to a more comprehensive and thorough sub-editing process than copy for the website.

      John B@8. Has yet to happen, I’m afraid.

    • Punster says:

      At first, I believed K’daffy Duck’s deisred ouster was prompted by his murderous, dictatorial ways. Then I thought, maybe not so much. Perhaps it is the doggie bowl perched atop the out-of-date afro hairstyle, or the funky sunglasses that’s causing all the commotion in Libya. Now, I conclude that it’s the furor over the correct way to spell his name. Thank Ghod!

    • Jon Hanna says:

      Bellminx, I think you’ll find that German uses the same Latin letters that English does, (with a few variations, but none relevant), so your point about Hytler doesn’t really work.

    • @5

      I just looked up the referenced article (fearful that it may be about me) and encountered the following phrase “The first story to catch my eye concerned Irish golfer Paul Harrington getting turfed out of some tournament for a breach of the rules” Pardon? Who is this Paul Harrington? Pedant, heal thyself.

    • Ted says:

      Ah, a wonderful case of subs dancing on the head of a pin!!
      I was learned in matters of pronunciation and spelling always to enquire politely of the person themselves. I know the man himself is a bit busy at the moment but I presume his government press secretary (if that is his title) must issue official statements in English from time to time. I would take up their usage, complete with Q and no vowel, if need be… it’s not like we don’t know how to pronounce it.

    • I can point to an Irish Times “In Short” piece that in the space of 4 lines, managed to get the defendant, the name of the shop and the owner of shop’s names wrong in a court case, if we’re playing that game. Worse than naming the wrong Harrington or using a more obscure transliteration of Gaddafi, the name Stephen McEvoy becomes Stephen Anchovy!! Pretty dire…

    • Tony McCoy O'Grady says:

      The only important point is this:

      … We all know who is being discussed.

      Enough said.

    • Ted says:

      It’s always easier for the reader, we won’t be reading the 100,000+ words every day… but, in the ‘these things happen’ category, the ‘Jonathon’ Price photo caption on Donald’s ‘Tingler’ piece is still in situ online. Although I do like the notion of a composite Vincent Pryce / Jonathon Price – the casting possibilities are pretty good!

    • Seán Kenny says:

      Enough of this orthographic pedantry! Whither the Amazonian Guard, my friends? Whither the Amazonian Guard?

    • @17

      Thank you, Donald, for pointing out that Mr Harrington’s first name is not Paul. I guess I got him confused with a rock ‘n’ roll kid. Mea culpa. By the way, when I first read your comment I thought it was written by another golfer named Darren who shares your surname.

    • Abdullah al-Fake says:

      My Arabic is not very much past the beginner stage, but much of the problem stems from the fact that there is such a big difference between spoken and written Arabic. If the name is transcribed from written Arabic, then it will be Qadhdhafi, dh as the English th in “this”, q as a k pronounced very deeply in the throat. However, this is just the Classical Arabic pronunciation, which for most native speakers sounds stilted and even ridiculous.

      The version “Gaddafi” with g and d is based on the local dialectal pronunciation. In Egypt, it is probably something like ‘Azafi instead.

    • Natasha says:

      Anyone who knows the arabic language knows that it is made up of phonetic sounds and not letters. So when translating it into english, numerous spellings are generated and all are deemed corrected since it is how you say it and not how you spell it that is the most pressing concern.

    • Rings says:

      The primary purpose of a newspaper is to communicate the news. Once people identify the characters the spelling is irrelevant especially if it is an arabic translation. It would be useful for a Google search in a few years but I think the bigger story is the story itself and not the spelling which will never have a conclusion.

    • Cían says:


      The only problem is that you still can’t maintain a consistent house style!

    • part time punk says:

      Off topic but assuming you get automatic updates on your blog comments …..
      I might be missing something but is there any reason that it’s easy and user friendly to leave comments on the blogs here but that you have to sign in with a facebook/google/twitter account etc. to leave comments on regular online articles. Why can’t the later just have the same approach as the blogs.

    • Liam O'Mahony says:

      It’s a bit like the spelling: GH (as in lauGH) +O (as in wOmen) + TI (as in naTIon) …thus GHOTI (pronounced FISH)!

    • Brendan Corkery says:

      Next up, Irish Times journalists defend their inability to use apostrophes correctly any more

    • Garret says:

      This is hardly worth of a discussion! It’s a foreign name, so variations will happen. We all know who we are talking about. This sounds like a case of the tail wagging the dog.

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