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