Monday, February 26, 2007

# Posted 10:11 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHAT HAPPENED TO QAEDA'S "AL"? Maybe I don't read enough newspapers, but I thought it was very strange to see how "Qaeda" has become a stand-alone adjective in the NY Times. For example, a story on Saturday described reports that:
American AC-130 gunships had conducted strikes on Qaeda suspects using an airstrip in eastern Ethiopia.
As most people know, "Al" just means "the" in Arabic. There is no capitalization in Arabic, so one can't really say, I think, if "Al" is part of the name of Osama bin Laden's organization, or just a grammatical happenstance.

Think of it this way. George Bush is president of the United States, but one can refer to him as "United States President George Bush".

What's really strange is something I discovered while reading news reports from the 1980s, also in the Times. Regularly, the reports would refer to the USSR not as "the Soviet Union" but as just "the Soviet" or even just "Soviet", as in "Soviet imprisons well-known dissident."

Now that makes no sense. It's sort of like writing that "the United invaded Afghanistan in 2001. In 2003, United also invaded Iraq."

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(8) opinions -- Add your opinion

Since Soviet is the noun for "council" rather than an adjective, the usage does make sense. The full name of the USSR is the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics rather than the Soviet Union.
It's much more like writing "the States also invaded Iraq", which is hardly an unusual locution.
I was in Egypt during the wrangling over the Presidency in December 2000. A man asked me whether I was for "Al-Bush or Al-Gore"!
In both English and Russian, "Soviet" is an adjective and not a noun in "Union of Soviet Socialist Republics" (соединение советских социалистических республик) and "Soviet Union" (советский союз). I'm not a native Russian speaker, but I've never heard the country referred to as "the Soviet" in Russian.
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The first time I saw this was a number of years ago in a Maureen Dowd column.

I assumed it was Dowd attempting (and, as usual, failing miserably) to be hip.
I, too, have noticed that formulation in the NYT. I probably first recognized it in the months shortly after 9/11 and it has continued ever since.

I am not sure if it is correct or not, but it always "feels" odd to me. That said, depending upon the circumstance we don't always refer to "The" Bader Meinhof.

Interesting to see what others might think.
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