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

dust storm haboob 2.JPG
Image: @jeffgokee
Check out this and other shots from readers of last night's "jegos" on the New Times site.

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.

haboob com shot.JPG
For the heck of it, we punched in "www.haboob.com" on our browser today. Here's what came up.

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I would go with the Pima word, and like the local connection.  Maybe the Maricopas saw less duststorms, being farther North.  Kind of like a new arrival from Chicago in Phoenix calling it "What the hell was that?" Sitting on our barstools in Safford AZ we kind of like the Haboob, which we say very carefully between sips of Kerz Lite.


Just call them dust storms.

Walter Concrete
Walter Concrete

It's always been a dust storm.   The media are a bunch of ha-Boobs.


Why not just call it a dust storm....like English speaking Americans have called it for years!


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Its a dust storm, plain and simple. I think its an excuse for media to say "boob" during their newscasts. ......this just in, the valley was hit by a pair of haboobs today. People reporting they were massive in size and one appeared to be slight smaller than the other....hahahahaha


I first heard the term haboob over 20 years ago when I moved to Phx.  It's actually the proper meteorological term.

Try to go 20 minutes with using only English words.  You won't be able to do it, as many English words came from other languages.

Black Blizzard
Black Blizzard

It's the proper meteorological term for a sandstorm prevalent in the region of Sudan around Khartoum (see Wiki).  As the dust storm occurred in Arizona, I would tend to go with dust storm.  I tend to concur with Ray Stern that the media fancies the pronunciation and appearance of the word 'haboob'.  The controversy surrounding the Arabic origins of 'haboob' simply helps to sell more newspapers and/or generate more traffic to the media websites promoting these dust storm articles. 

I find it interesting that the word 'haboob' was selected by NWS as being synonymous with 'dust storm', when there are several other words of foreign etymology - most all having Arabic origin - that are also used to describe dust storms, such as 'simoom', 'scirocco'.  In fact, many years ago it seemed that 'scirocco' used to be the comme il faut term de jour for describing dust storms and, indeed, the Marine Meterology Division of the Naval Research Lab in Monterey has a page dedicated to the discussion of scirocco dust storms but no such page for haboobs. 

Well, I guess it's just another example of what was in vogue yesterday being passe today and becoming de rigueur tomorrow.  I still have to wonder what the folks living in the Dust Bowl era would have thought if the media back then would have suggested that livelihoods were being destroyed by haboobs rather than 'black blizzards'.   

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