Sunday, January 25, 2009

Abu Gharib? Abu Ghraib? Abu Ghrib? Abu Ghurayb?! A Spelling Issue

The spelling of names in a language that uses the Latin alphabet is tricky, when the name comes from a language that uses another system for expressing sounds: and gets even more interesting when the other language uses a non-phonetic system for the visual system of encoding data that we call "writing."

That prison in Iraq, where Saddam Hussein had people tortured and killed, and the American military investigated a bunch of naughty soldiers, is called Abu Gharib, Abu Ghraib, even Abu Ghrib. I think that last may be a typo, but it is pronounceable.

To Change or Not to Change? That is the Question

Researching a post today, I found that no less authority than The New York Times likes "Abu Ghraib." ("...Torture at Abu Ghraib American soldiers brutalized Iraqis. How far up does the responsibility go?") (American soldiers brutalized Iraqis: it must be happening all the time. You know what those Americans are like!)

I've gone back and 'corrected' names in this blog a few times, as I learned that my first posts used an obscure spelling. Not often: but I have done it. And, since Abu Gh[-whatever] seems destined to be with us for a while, as a recurring news item, and I discovered just how many ways there were to spell it in English, I decided to go back and do a little extra research.

I generally take the spelling used by a vast majority of sources, unless there's good reason to think that the majority is wrong, and someone else actually knows what the score is.

With no less illustrious authority than The New York Times as a guide, I should probably change the spelling I've been using ("Abu Gharib") to what The New York Times likes ("Abu Ghraib").

On the other hand, "Abu Gharib" got 3,280,000 hits in a Google search earlier today, compared to 3,220,000 for "Abu Ghraib." By that standard (a sort of popularity poll), there's only about a 2% difference in how many people use the two spellings, with "Abu Gharib" winning by a very short lead.

Just to make things more difficult, I found another spelling: "Abu Ghurayb, [Abu Ghraib]" (

"Abu Ghurayb" got 42,400 hits on Google a few minutes ago. It may be more accurate, by some standards, but with about 1/100 as many people using it as front-running spellings, it doesn't seem like a good choice. I don't want readers stumbling over an unfamiliar spelling.

So, for now, "Abu Gharib" will be the standard spelling in this blog.

Now, back to my research.
Update (January 25, 2009)

I got to thinking: The New York Times liking "Abu Ghraib" is one thing. But, when The New York Times and Reuters both think that's the 'right' way to spell the name, that's another.

Quite a few people regard those two traditional news outlets as authoritative: so, "Abu Gharib" will change to "Abu Ghraib" today.

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.