The Spelling Problem

Spencer Ackerman explained to me last night that it’s not actually true that a spelling mixup is what caused Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to be approved to fly to the US. And now he can explain it to you. Nevertheless, the spelling mixup did happen, and this kind of thing happens pretty frequently. Noah Schactman vents:

This is a problem that commercial software firms largely solved years ago. (Try typing “Noa Schactmann” into Google, and see what comes up.) How it could persist in the CT community, I just don’t understand.


But there’s another thing about these persistent spelling issues that bugs me. The problem is oftentimes one of transliteration. There’s some sequence of Arabic characters that’s sometimes rendered into English as “al-Qaeda” and sometimes as “al-Qaida.” And some sequence that’s sometimes “Osama” and sometimes “Usama.” And lord knows the dictator of Libya’s name has been transliterated a whole bunch of different ways. It should be possible to resolve a lot of this confusion by just making sure that the databases (or what have you) include a field in which names are inputted in Arabic (or Cyrillic or Chinese) characters. Americans will want to deal with a transliteration on the page, but that way when you had a computer search through things or try to match files, the back end could use the names spelled out in Arabic where you won’t have all these alternatives.