Readers of this paper who have, over the years, been following the adventures of Libyan ruler Muammar Qaddafi might have been momentarily confused by the appearance of a front-page story about Libyan ruler Moammar Gadhafi. The story said that Mr. Gadhafi failed to show up for an expected personal appearance in Libya, but made a rambling, confused speech on television in which he berated the United States and talked of an alliance with the Soviet Union. "Yup," said most readers, "same guy."

*It is, of course, the same guy, operating under yet another spelling of his name. There are a number of theories about why Mr. Gadhafi's name seems to be spelled several dozen ways, depending upon where it is being printed. Our own suspicion is that some years ago a suicide battalion of Libyan orthographers was sneaked into this country and its members placed in editing positions at hundreds of American publications, where they went to work changing the spelling of their leader's name on almost a daily basis. Those who were caught by U.S. spelling agents were made to repeat the fifth grade. (We said this was a suicide battalion -- some things are worse than death.)

In most cases, however, they went undetected, and their efforts have continued to sow confusion among Mr. Gadhafi's enemies as to exactly what is going on with him. They have also allowed him to rebuff, rather haughtily, a series of correspondents in search of a big story who have come to his tent asking, "Please, what is the real spelling of your name?"

sk "I shall never tell you," we imagine Mr. Gadhafi replying. "And should you attempt to make me reveal it, you will be driven into the sea to be eaten by the fishes."

The change in spelling that appeared in The Post was particularly suspicious, because it made the jump from the first letter "Q" directly to "G" without pausing at the in-between "K" favored by numerous publications at one time or another, depending on the phase of the moon. The insertion of "h" was another bold break with the past. This is, however, the spelling now being adopted not only by The Post but by the Associated Press and United Press International as well. It is based on several recent letters written by Mr. Gadhafi in which, for the first time, he appended a Latin-alphabet transliteration under his Arabic signature. If you find a good conspiracy theory more interesting than this explanation, you can, as we do, take it with a grain of sand.