The Foreign Officehas been around for a long time, as I’m sure you’ve noticed. Organisations that have survived for over 200 years (and there aren’t many of them) tend to create their own culture and language. In our case, those linguistic habits seem, to me at any rate, to be mostly initials and acronyms. I’ve had to stop conversations and refer back to a colleague’s statement seemingly made wholly out of letters, not words.
That’s normal and understandable, and common to most organisations and industries (even digital). But one of the small habits I’ve tried to break is when that breaks out onto the web. So content which is based around acronyms and initials, without explanation are hunted down. Headlines containing such crimes even more so.
Such content in unintelligible. Just as bad, it’s almost unfindable.
Another three letter acronym – SEO (search engine optimisation) is the ‘science’ of labelling and writing your content in the manner in which people search for it. So, if you sell spades online, calling your shop the ‘Soil Removal Device Emporium’ is not going to make you the top of the search results list on Google. If you want people to find your content, make sure you use the language they use to search for it. Search remains a primary method by which people find your content, so make it easy for them. Entire digital agencies have been built on such basic principles.
So why do we spell Qadhafilike that? Why don’t we spell it ‘Gadaffi’ like everyone else and make sure everyone can find our content?
This is certainly a contender for the most inconsequential thought around Libya’s momentous time, but I’ll make it anyway. Given that we communicate in order to explain, shouldn’t we use those same principles of SEO and spell the name like everyone else in the West seems to?
For one thing, the experts here seem to think that we spell it correctly: We spell the name with the Arabic equivalent of a Q . There is, they say, no letter in the Arabic alphabet that corresponds universally to the English hard "g" – in some dialects a hard q (ie k at the back of the throat) softens to something closer to g (as in Western Libya, or northern Yemen); in other dialects (eg Egypt, south Yemen, eastern Libya) the Arabic equivalent of the English j hardens to a g . So using "G" can be confusing.
So Qadhafi it is. Because it’s right. In cases like this, the alternative would be to say ‘let’s do something wrong, everyone else does’. That’s a perfectly respectable argument for a digital business reliant on web traffic. The Foreign Office has other considerations…
All we have to do now is persuade Google to add ‘Did you mean Qadhafi?’ at the top of all the rest of the results.