Haboobs in Arizona Known for Centuries to Pimas as "Jegos"

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Nothing against the Sudanese, but "haboob" is a dumb-sounding name to English-receiving ears. It inspires more ridicule than the awesomeness these wind-blown monsters deserve.

The news media has been using the word more often in the last few years, and the Grand Haboob that blew into town on July 5 made it a household term. For weather buffs, though, it's not a new term -- a few seconds in Google News Archives shows that newspapers have used the word to describe the phenomena in Arizona and elsewhere for decades. A 1981 Milwaukee Journal article about the failed rescue of American hostages in Iran referred to a "haboob" that enveloped helicopters.

In part because of our consternation with "haboob," we wanted to know what the people who lived in this part of the world long before the arrival of Europeans called these things.

Kelly Washington, the director of cultural resources for the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, enlightened us on the subject -- though we're not sure if TV news anchors are ready for these hard-to-pronounce terms.

In Pima, a language spoken by people in Washington's community, plus the Gila River Tohono O'odham reservations, dust storms are called "jegos."

It's pronounced more like "jeh-gis" than anything rhyming with Legos.

The Maricopa don't have a precise name for the dust storms, Washington explains. "Dust" is "mpoth," in Maricopa, (pronounced "empoatch"). But if a Maricopa stepped out of his home 500 years ago and saw one of those imposing dust storms on the horizon, he or she might say "mpothsh-vidiik," which means "the dust is coming," says Washington.

Or, if it's particularly nasty like the July 5 storm, the Maricopa might say "mpothsh mshidevk vidiik" -- "the scary dust is coming."

These words might derive from the language of the ancient Hohokam people who lived in the Valley for 1,000 years before pulling up stakes in the 1400s. No one knows what the Hohokam called dust storms, though.

Living with dust in the air is just natural for natives, and Washington says it's unclear how widely the Pima and Maricopa use these terms when they notice the yearly Sonoran summer storms.

"I called some of the older people here," Washington tells us. "Most of them referred to 'the wind.'"

We have to admit, "haboob" is a hell of lot easier to say than "mpothsh mshidevk vidiik."

In other words, haboobs work better in your mouth.

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