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Q: So, there are lots of guys around here with “Sheik” in their name. And there are lots of other guys around here with “Sheikh” in their name. I hear there’s a difference between the two … what’s up with that?

A: Yes, there are many ways to spell “sheik,” including variations like “shaik” and others. And, yes, it does matter how you spell it. Specific sheiks (or sheikhs) will ask you to spell their names with or without the “h,” depending on their preference. And while it might not seem a big deal to some, it’s a representation of their person’s identity and very important to them.

The variations on spellings can be particularly tricky when you’re trying to identify a person — that one little letter might lead to the wrong man being lauded or jailed.

According to the disturbingly-addictive site www.googlefight.com, there are 17.6 million Web results for “sheikh” at Google, as compared to 5.73 million hits for “sheik.” We have no idea what of significance that tells you, but it’s interesting. No?

In the dictionary, a sheik is simply “the leader of an Arab village or family.” But more broadly, it can refer to an elder of a tribe, a revered older man or a ruler. In Arabic, the word literally means a man of old age. It’s generally thought to have originated with Bedouin tribal leaders in the Arabian Peninsula.

So, basically, if you’re the head of any kind of family or village, you can be a sheik. Doesn’t matter if it’s 10 people or 10,000 people.

Got a question about goings-on in the Mideast? E-mail Stripes at: news@estripes.osd.mil

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