Gaddafi? Qadafi? Qaddafy? The possible end of the unspellable man.

October 20, 2011

Say what you will, the man could assemble an ensemble. (MOHAMED HAMMI/REUTERS)

Dozens of others were quick to pitch in with observations along the lines that “MOAMMAR GADHAFI CAPTURED! However, Moammar Kadafi, Muammar Gaddafi, Muammar Gadafy and Mo’ammar Gadhafi are still at large. #Gadhafi” (Lou Brutus).

If Gaddafi’s possible passing (now accompanied by gruesome cell-phone footage) has revealed anything, it is that we are still deeply divided as to the correct transliteration of his name. Also, we think he looked fierce in those ensembles he used to wear. I stand by my earlier observation that he looked as though he had shot a couch and was wearing it on his back as a trophy, after an intense struggle in which the couch nearly prevailed.

“There goes my Halloween costume,” muttered dozens of hipsters, which just goes to show why it never pays to plan these things too far in advance.

Gaddafi/Qadafi/Gadaffy/Quaddaffi was an obligingly cartoonish villain. He dressed absurdly. On occasion, he even sported a mustache. Libyan fighters stumbled on a cache of lovingly preserved photo clippings of Condoleezza Rice.

Of course, the real joke was that it took us so long to realize what a joke he was. He was not crazy, Top Thinkers informed us as they allowed him to sit in at vital summits. He was Strategically Unpredictable. Perhaps Moammar Gaddafi was. But Muammar Qadhafi generally acted like one of those people you would politely ask to leave the wedding reception.

If it hadn’t been real, it would have been too colorful to be believed — just like most of his outfits.

With the advent of the Arab Spring and its push against tyranny, we had to notice the other side of That Strange Uncle We as a World Generally Put Up With. Beginning with a bloodless coup, he’d developed an iron grip on power and cult of personality. Uneasy lies the head that wears the peculiar hat, as Shakespeare definitely did not say. The Libyan leader was a combination of pathos and bathos, too ludicrous to be entirely villainous; too villainous to be entirely ludicrous. Glance at a Fashion Retrospective and you can’t help chuckling. But what he was capable of was far more serious.

And it kept coming back to the spelling. I still awaken, petrified, from dreams in which I am on “Wheel of Fortune” and the clue is “Libyan Dictator.” I guess every available letter and none of them are right, because it turns out they are using another alphabet entirely.

Now he’s gone, says the new prime minister and implies the gruesome video. But can we really be certain? Can you ever end someone with so many names?

In his ensembles, he could lurk at Occupy Wall Street for weeks without being noticed.

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day.
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