From the Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors:

Qaddafi, Muammar /Muhammed al-) (b. 1942) Libyan leader – use Qaddāfī in specialist texts; not Gadafi, Gadhdhafi, Qadafy, Gaddafi (although preferred by The Times), Gadaffi

See also As a Linguist … on Wait, who just died?

It’s been all over the news: the death of controversial, feared, despised, admired Libyan leader Mum…Muam…Moamm…

Let’s just say M., shall we? Right then. Libyan leader M. Ghad…Quad…Kadh…Gahd…

Crap. Just how the heck to you spell that guy’s name? According to one article I read many moons ago, there have been a recorded 112 different ways his name has been spelled. And that’s apparently not the only strange thing about him.

See also words to good effect on What’s in a name: spelling “Gaddafi”.

I’ve been “translating” his name (from the Italian version, Gheddafi) just about every day since the Libyan uprising began (I work with another translator on the English version of the Italian Foreign Ministry’s website). So when the rebellion broke out we had to decide quickly on which version to use.

We opted to follow the European Commission’s lead, Italy being a European Union country, and use Gaddafi.

Well, fair enough – but if we all followed EU recommendations, we would have to write ‘-ise’ instead of ‘-ize’. (EU English Style Guide, pdf, 7th ed. June 2011)

The Straight Dope has gone into the topic in great depth too. In reply to an apparently genuine comment from the Library of Congress:

For the record, here’s the official Library of Congress rundown on how to spell ol’ whatsisname: (1) Muammar Qaddafi, (2) Mo’ammar Gadhafi, (3) Muammar Kaddafi, (4) Muammar Qadhafi, (5) Moammar El Kadhafi, (6) Muammar Gadafi, (7) Mu’ammar al-Qadafi, (8) Moamer El Kazzafi, (9) Moamar al-Gaddafi, (10) Mu’ammar Al Qathafi, (11) Muammar Al Qathafi, (12) Mo’ammar el-Gadhafi, (13) Moamar El Kadhafi, (14) Muammar al-Qadhafi, (15) Mu’ammar al-Qadhdhafi, (16) Mu’ammar Qadafi, (17) Moamar Gaddafi, (18) Mu’ammar Qadhdhafi, (19) Muammar Khaddafi, (20) Muammar al-Khaddafi, (21) Mu’amar al-Kadafi, (22) Muammar Ghaddafy, (23) Muammar Ghadafi, (24) Muammar Ghaddafi, (25) Muamar Kaddafi, (26) Muammar Quathafi, (27) Muammar Gheddafi, (28) Muamar Al-Kaddafi, (29) Moammar Khadafy, (30) Moammar Qudhafi, (31) Mu’ammar al-Qaddafi, (32) Mulazim Awwal Mu’ammar Muhammad Abu Minyar al-Qadhafi.

The Neue Züricher Zeitung also considers the problem, which is just as great in German.

2 thoughts on “Muammar

    • From languagehat: An immigrant from the old country came through Ellis Island. As part of a physical exam, he was asked to read a line of letters on an eye chart. Pointing to the fourth row (which contained the letters S Z Q W R E K Z I), the doctor asked, “Can you read these letters?” “Read them?!!” The man exclaimed, “I KNOW the man!”

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