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Lindsey Graham sounds the alarm about the word "the"

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South Carolina Republican Senator and super-hawk Lindsey Graham wants you to know that he is sick and tired of Arabs using the word "the."

"Everything that starts with 'Al' in the Middle East is bad news," said U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina at an AIPAC dinner in Boston on Monday. "Al-Qaida, Al-Nusra, Al-Qaida in the Arab Peninsula," said the senator, who may be running for president.

As Haaretz writes, "the problem — linguistically — with Graham's comment is that 'Al' is the definite article in Arabic (i.e. equivalent to English's 'the'), and usually appears before most Arabic proper nouns, especially place and personal names."

So, for example, "the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia" (Al-Mamlakah al-Arabiyah as-Sa'ūdiyah) or "the United Arab Emirates" (al-Imārāt al-‘Arabīyah al-Muttaḥhidah) or "the United States of America" (al-Wilāyāt al-Muttaḥidah al-Amrīkīyah) are all, in Arabic, phrases starting with "al." This is also the derivation of the English word algebra (from al-jabr, the reunion of broken parts).

It's at least possible that Graham is so ignorant of foreign countries that he doesn't know this about Arabic — although given his keen interest in foreign policy, and Middle East policy in particular, that's a bit damning. Alternatively, he maybe just wants to clarify that he thinks anything and everything coming from the Arab world is bad news.

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