Great Moments in Transliteration: the Case of “Qadhafi”

A follow up on the finacky post on transliterating Mu’amar al-Qadhafi’s name into English. Andrew Sullivan (Zack Beauchamp, rather), Issandr el-Amrani and Michael Collins Dunn have all posted on the issue, summarizing and explaining their (or others’) outlooks. Dunn’s post elicited a comment from David Mack, the State Department political officer who decided to use the quite utilitarian and most accurate transliteration — Qadhafi — for American reports.

Thank you, Mike, for transliterating the name in the manner you do. As a young political officer and translator/interpreter at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli in September 1969, I decided on the “correct” transliteration. Doubling the dh consonant would have been more purist but really too fussy for the largely non-Arabist readers of US government reports. In those days, before more sophisticated word searches became possible, biographic files could be lost forever if they did not use a standard spelling. Pity the Arabists who obstinately tried to use a standard fusha transliteration from the written Arabic for Gamal Abdel Nasser or Habib Bourguiba.

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