Cusco, Cuzco, Ccozcco, Qusqu
December 22, 2008 6:59 AM   Subscribe

Cusco or Cuzco? Is this a matter of potato potahto? Or post-colonial post-colohnial?

I just wrote a review of a documentary about indigenous musicians in Peru. I got the copy edits back and they asked if I wanted to spell Cusco the way I spelled it (Cusco) or the way it has been spelled in past reviews of materials about highland Peru (Cuzco). The official modern spelling is Qusqu. I believe that I should spell it in the review as it was spelled in the documentary (Cusco) BUT I would like to know more about the history of the two different acceptable spellings used in English and Spanish. Could you explain? I found this on Wikipedia, but I guess I'm looking for more detailed info from someone more experienced and knowledgeable. Thanks in advance!
posted by cachondeo45 to Writing & Language (10 answers total)
I once worked on a machine translation project for Quechua, and I can tell you that despite the fact that there is an official modern spelling in theory, in practice, spelling is all over the place and we had to put a strict spelling regime in place along just to get standardized data. The phenomenon of having a large variations of word spellings is really common with minority languages, even if there is a top-down standardization, especially if they haven't been used in government or education until recently.

What I'm say is that there isn't total agreement on how to spell anything from person to person in Quechua. Therefore, all of your options are correct, so don't worry too much about offending anyone. Your decision to use 'Cusco' is a fine one, especially if the documentary is in Spanish.
posted by Alison at 7:32 AM on December 22, 2008

Is your review in English, Spanish, or Quechua? What is the preferred spelling of the publication?

UNESCO uses Cuzco.

Peru uses Cusco. (there does not seem to be an official Quechua website)

US State Department uses Cuzco.

British Foreign Office uses Cusco.
posted by Pollomacho at 8:20 AM on December 22, 2008

You don't seem to mention whom you have written the review for, but if it's any kind of serious publication, it will have a style guide for precisely this kind of question. With transliterations of proper names there is often more than one acceptable spelling in everyday usage, and style guides are what keeps a paper from referring to Muammar Khadaffi on page 2 and Moammar al-Gadhafi on page 6.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:02 AM on December 22, 2008

my dad always bought it under the label of cusco, if what people in arkansas would recognize is of any import to you.
posted by nadawi at 9:49 AM on December 22, 2008

I'm in the travel industry and work with our Peruvian operators daily with Machu Picchu logistics. The airport code is CUZ, so you'd think it'd be CUZCO.

But my operators always spell the city "Cusco" in emails, so that's what I use because I figure if they live and work there, they must be right.
posted by HeyAllie at 10:06 AM on December 22, 2008

Yes, I'll second the idea of a style guide, because the publication will have a standardized way of spelling this word. To the publication it's most likely more important to harmonize the spelling across various editions than to follow the spelling of what you're reviewing.
posted by ob at 11:13 AM on December 22, 2008

I'm a book editor in the U.S.; the way we generally decide these sorts of questions to determine our style sheet is to go with the preferred (first) spelling in the current Webster's Geographical dictionary (3rd ed.), unless the author has a very strong opinion about the matter, or there's some other specific reason (e.g., consistency with other style sheet issues) that would make one of the other options preferable.
posted by scody at 12:43 PM on December 22, 2008

Speaking of potato/potahto - has anyone noticed that no one anywhere says "potahto"?
posted by yclipse at 1:46 PM on December 22, 2008

When I was in high school spanish, I noticed that certain modern authors would use s in place of c or z to indicate the accents of South Americans or southern Andalusians. Since there is no distinction in the Peruvian accent between s and z, the official spelling might be changed to indicate seseo pronunciation as opposed to ceceo.
posted by Araucaria at 1:51 PM on December 22, 2008

Response by poster: Sorry for the delayed response - internet was down. In the meantime, it's an academic publication in the humanities. I asked about a standard spelling and they don't seem to have one; people have spelled the word both ways but in most recent scholarship and reviews (within the past year), it has been spelled Cuzco. The documentary is in English, Spanish, and Quechua (you can pick the chapter and language you want). The subjects of the documentary speak exclusively in Quechua, so the subtitles indicate that it is Cusco. I figure I should respect the documentary, but the there are those style issues as mentioned by ricochet biscuit. I think I'll stick to Cusco. Thanks so much, everyone!
posted by cachondeo45 at 5:11 AM on December 23, 2008

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