Friday, July 22, 2011

هبوب aka "Strong Wind"

The New York Times reports today ('Haboobs' Stir Critics in Arizona) on a skirmish taking place in the op-ed pages of the Arizona Republic.

The dust storms sweeping over Phoenix recently are apparently being referred to in local media as "haboobs", an Arabic word for sandstorm meaning "strong wind."  This has rankled some Arizonans.

It all started here, when one Don Yonts ["Yonts" being an Anglicized version of the German "Janz"] objects: 

....this is Arizona, not some Middle Eastern nation.

I am insulted that local TV news crews are now calling this kind of storm a haboob.  How do they think our soldiers feel coming back to Arizona and hearing some Middle Eastern term?

Aside from wondering who appointed this guy as the guardian of veterans' feelings, his sentiment is hands down a sign of the silliest sort of nativism

Of course, the debate over loan words isn't a new one, and as any historian of American English knows, Webster single-handedly Americanized English spelling when he published his dictionaries.  His efforts along this line, as well as his work in Americanizing grammar, were part of the era's obsessive push towards creating a national culture, celebrating the virtues of liberty and patriotism.

Not everyone shares Yonts' point of view:

May I remind the writer that, according to his logic, the following words of foreign origin should also not be used as they may insult him and our armed forces? Typhoon, shawl, pajamas and kiosk. Also, we should not teach "algebra," use the "zero" or wear "khaki" pants.

Some are likewise amused, peppering an entire letter with loan words, while others "....laughed at [the] use of fancy words to describe a good old-fashioned dust storm."  According to the latter, the word haboob "has been imposed on us, and we can do nothing about it."  I  love the hapless victim posturing.  Very productive.

The nativist sentiment recurs: 

Why does it surprise Arizonans when our legal aliens (non-natives) call dust storms haboobs?

These are the same strangers who have made no attempt to learn how to pronounce state names and landmarks given to us by our pioneers, Native Americans and Hispanic cultures, ranging back hundreds of years.

Apparently, history is finished.  Hispanic and Anglo pioneers are okay, but more recent arrivals are to be derided.  And Arab words should be avoided.  The process of linguistic enrichment stops here.  A line in the sand!

But these haboob nay-sayers may have a point.  On the discussion page of Wikipedia's haboob article someone writes: 

The term "Haboob" was defined by the indigenous population of the Middle East and Sahara deserts. The name defines the storms of their region that is a subset of dry wind storms that involved primarily sand and usually of a longer duration that North American dry storms. Dust storms of the southwest US and Mexico consist of primarily dust or top surface soil. To compare relatively benign dust storms to the more damaging sand storms of the Middle East and northern Africa is to reduce the impact the name "Haboob" evokes when discussing dry wind storms.

Now, keeping foreign words at bay is a hopeless task...just ask the French, notorious anti-loan worders.  They should know.  Old French and Norman account for more Modern English vocabulary than Old and Middle English. 

All this comes against the backdrop of the Arizona legislature's recent campaign to solicit private donations for a border fence to keep out illegal immigrants, drug runners and haboobs, an effort which netted 58,000 USD on day one.

Advocates of a fence have a powerful ally in reality.  The website for this effort features the following startling image:

When a country must warn people about movng freely within their own borders, there is indeed a problem.

But while most opponents of the fence target it as anti-Hispanic, the website actually dedicates a lot of its time arguing that the danger is in fact not from Latinos but Arabs, militant or otherwise: 

According to an investigation by the House Committee on Homeland Security, intelligence officials have determined members of the terrorist group Hezbollah have already infiltrated the U.S. by crossing at the southern border. Border Patrol agents recovered military-style patches on clothing near the border—one patch contained the word "martyr" in Arabic and another depicted a plane appearing to fly into sky scrapers.

In 2009, according to Homeland Security documents, ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) officials detained 45,279 illegal aliens classified as OTM (Other Than Mexican), many of whom were from Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, and Pakistan.

Additionally, FBI Director Robert Mueller testified before the House Appropriations Committee stating that these OTMs "are individuals from countries with known Al Qaeda connections who are changing their Islamic surnames to Hispanic-sounding names and obtaining false Hispanic identities, learning to speak Spanish and pretending to be Hispanic.

All this talks of desert storms and barriers and Arabs brings to mind Operation Desert Storm, the US name of the Iraq airland conflict in 1991.  Now, this storm began in 1990 as Desert Shield.  The name is a catchy one to be sure.  It's the English translation of a 2006 offensive by the Iraqi insurgency led by Al-Qaeda in Gulf War 2:  Son of Gulf War. Keeping foreign influence at bay it something shared by all parties it would seem.

So a shield becomes a storm and becomes a shield again, wielded by mad Arabs trying to get through yet another shield into a desert storm-ridden area guarded by Minutemen, glad American patriots who take their name from men who helped wrestle the east coast away from men who'd wrestled it from Indians and then made their way here to wrestle it away from Mexicans who'd wrestled it away from other Indians and who the Minutemen fear are slowly wrestling it back from Americans, etc., etc.

Do good fences make good neighbors?  What exactly is a storm fence?  How does a shield become a storm?  Are we reaching the perfect storm for....something?  Haboob?  Got boobs?  Got milk?  Where's the beef?  Who let the dogs out?

Is there room in this town for haboobs and dust storms?  I think so, but as much as I find the phrase "dust storm" to be evocative for the mind's eye, saying "haboob" is just funny, like "boing", "poob" or "pumpernickel".  I think I'll be using it a lot more in the near future.

And yeah, I actually get the rancor of the Arizona native.  I've seen Florida turn into a giant strip mall as aresult of an endless influx of New Yorkers and other assorted yankees.  I remember when Tampa was actually livable.  Now I live in France and am watching it happen all over again, thanks to the success of Airbus.

And my British friends call me a Yank.  I guess in terms of adding to the urban sprawl in search of a job, they're right.  Which is all a haboob wants, innit?

1 comment:

  1. well, you've added a new word to my lexicon: OTM

    You're "A line in the sand!" had me loling.

    Is Tintin French or Belgian?


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