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Al who?

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Luckily, she was able to e-mail two generous experts who helped her understand the reason for the differences, and who also helped her decide which form to use.

Barbara Wallraff, who writes the Word Court column for the Atlantic Monthly and who edits the fine publication Copy Editor, responded: "The differences arise out of different ways of transliterating from Arabic, or transliterations from different forms of Arabic. New York Times style … is Al Qaeda. However, al is an article, like the, so sometimes it's appropriate to use it and sometimes not."

Norm Goldstein, editor of the AP Stylebook, also helped, writing Rosie: "The spelling is a question of transliterating from the Arabic. We found it transliterated with an i in Hans Wehr, a respected dictionary for students of Arabic, as well as a dictionary put out by Librarie du Liban, the main Lebanese publishing house. (The letter we're concerned with is an ain, for which there is no equivalent sound in English.) In short, AP went with al-Qaida because it is the transliteration used most often by Arabic dictionaries and other academic Arabic publications."

Mr. Goldstein's article in the October-November 2001 issue of Copy Editor helped, also. There, he wrote:

"The AP has received several queries asking for guidelines on the use of al in Arabic names.

"There is no standard practice. Usage varies from country to country, from family to family, and even from individual to individual within a family.

"In transliterating their names into the Latin alphabet, some Arabs use Al, with a capital, others lowercase the a. The al can be separated from the following name with a space, attached with a hyphen, or attached directly, with no space.

"The AP's practice is to use the commonly accepted form of well-known names or the form preferred by the individual. …"

After all this, it's best to go back to our first question: What does Qaida mean?

Again, according to Goldstein in Copy Editor, al-Qaida, the name of bin Laden's group means "the base" in Arabic.

Rosie is hopeful that Style does not often have to write about "the base."



Let Rosie hear from you by letter (1707 Summit Ave., Suite 201, Richmond Va. 23230; by telephone (804) 358-0825; or by e-mail (repps@styleweekly.com).

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