A Few Spelling Variations

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Spelling help

Let's face it: it's highly embarrassing to be caught spelling somebody's name wrong. Especially when you know or talk about someone often enough that you should have figured it out. For all of the media's focus on accuracy and fact-checking, though, they sure managed to screw up a very important name: Ghaddafi. Or, sorry, Qaddafi; Gadhafi; or was it Kaddafi?

Why can't anyone agree on how to spell the dead dictator's name? According to Poynter.org, in 1986 a syndicated columnist named Cecil Adams found at least nine different spellings for the name, the most exotic and confusing spelling jointly attributed to the Library of Congress and the Middle East Studies Association: Qadhdhafi.

To be fair, part of the problem is translating Arabic script into the English alphabet. Adams explained that there are several sounds in the name that don't have an exact English counterpart, and for a while, the Libyan leader wasn't concerned enough to straighten anything out. However, in May of 1986, the colonel made his feelings known when he responded to a letter from second graders at Maxfield Magnet School in Saint Paul, Minnesota. While he signed his name to his response in Arabic script, under it was typed "Moammar El-Gadhafi". News organizations announced they would make the switch as soon as the signature was made public.

Well, most of them didn't. This debate has gone to live on past his death, and it's a wonder that the media didn't simply check their facts from the start.

Photo/Bryan Mason at creativecommons.org


Jessalyn Holdcraft October 29, 2011 at 2:38 PM  

I think Kate's blog brings up some great points. First, misspellings jump off the news page and diminish a reporter's credibility. Next, for names I always ask an interviewee to spell his/her name for me on the record. Otherwise, 'Lindsay' becomes 'Lyndsey'. As Kate pointed out, it is difficult to translate a name from one language to another.

Rachel Smith October 30, 2011 at 6:29 PM  

This post exemplifies the importance of fact checking in journalism. By misspelling the names of people, places, or even things makes the paper in which the error is printed lose credibility with its readers. Checking the names of people, places and things should be just as important as any other fact checking a journalist does.

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