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Post World's Largest Sewer: Mexico's Endho (from Gary Moore)
Created by John Eipper on 02/16/19 8:21 AM

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World's Largest Sewer: Mexico's Endho (from Gary Moore) (John Eipper, USA, 02/16/19 8:21 am)

Gary Moore writes:

For WAIS linguists: the word "endhó" is stumping me, with its murmur from a hidden world. It's from Mexico, a prominent geographical term, but it's not Spanish--and it's not Nahuatl/Aztec. The stakes in this riddle are not small--linked to what's been called "the World's Largest Sewer," "The World's Largest Septic Tank," and the world's largest irrigation area using completely untreated sewage. A disturbing word in many ways. I think I do know the general ethnic origin of "endhó," but in online dictionaries and the maze of Google I can't find its meaning anywhere. Only obliquely have I come onto hints as to its definition. The digraph is itself a clue, if deconstructed.

Whoever accepts this challenge will find a Dantesque tour into a landscape the tourist office doesn't see--with the word itself finally appearing as a crowning glory of stealth semantics, like a mountain peak seen every day, but never named.

JE comments:  I spent 30 minutes on this one, Gary, and I've also found nothing on the etymology of the Endhó Dam in Hidalgo state (near Mexico City), built in 1957.  I'm going to guess it's an acronym, with the stress "hó" referring to Hidalgo. Empresa Nacional De HidalgO?

All the web searches lead to one conclusion:  it's a noxious, foul-smelling sewage receptacle in a beautiful location.  I've never visited:  it's not on the beaten tourist paths.  Have you seen it?

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  • Endho Explained (Brian Blodgett, USA 02/17/19 6:55 AM)
    To answer Gary Moore's question, could Endhó just be the name of a village without any other meaning?

    "Tracking the flow of sewage, we drive to the countryside village of Endhó, where the stench is nauseatingly strong. Here the effluent is churned by a weir, which makes the chemicals and waste bubble up into little icebergs of white foam. 'Endhó is the toilet of Mexico City. It's the most polluted place on the planet,' Juárez proclaims. 'What you see here is a monument to corruption, cynicism, immorality and incompetence.'" (Watts, 2015), p. 3).

    Watts, J. (2015). Mexico City's water crisis--from source to sewer." Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/nov/12/mexico-city-water-crisis-source-sewer

    JE comments:  Or how about the unpronounceable Hñähñu?  Gary Moore (next) explains.

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  • No Acronym Here: Endho, Mexico City's Toilet (from Gary Moore) (John Eipper, USA 02/17/19 7:39 AM)

    Gary Moore writes:

    On the "Endhó" riddle of etymology and world-class sewage,
    JE has begun scratching the surface of a-backyard-not-meant-to-be-seen, and predictably has been snared by some of the
    confusion surrounding an informational pariah: the Endhó
    Dam and Reservoir (becoming "the world's largest septic tank"
    after construction of "the world's largest sewer" was the most
    monumental Mexican building project since the pyramids),
    was not built in 1957, and the word "endhó" seems to have
    nothing to do with "Hidalgo," the name of the surrounding
    Mexican state.

    John might check the neglected literature
    of the Hñähñu--Mexicans outside the Mexica narrative frame,
    in the way that the great sewage basin is also screened out.
    In that literature, a determined seeker may begin to see
    hints leading into the ironic depths of "endhó."

    (But don't forget the digraph clue.)

    JE comments:  Even though it's wrong, I'm still impressed by the acronym I made up:  (E)mpresa (N)acional (D)e (H)idalg(O).  We'll have to add "Endhó" to our list of folk etymologies/bacronyms alongside Port Out, Starboard Home (posh), and Fix It Again, Tony (FIAT).

    The Hñähñu are better known as the Otomí people.  Gary, are you saying that Endhó is merely the Hispanization of Hñähñu?

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    • Some Airline Bacronyms (John Heelan, UK 02/19/19 3:54 AM)
      JE commented on February 17th: "We'll have to add 'Endhó' to our list of folk etymologies/bacronyms alongside Port Out, Starboard Home (posh), and Fix It Again, Tony (FIAT)."

      And, of course, the favourite military expression of all, SNAFU! And let's not forget the pejorative description of airlines such as Qantas "Queers and Nymphomaniacs Trained as Stewards," TWA "Try Walking Always," BOAC "Begger Off, Airline is Crap."

      Enjoy the flying jokes in http://www.b737.org.uk/pilotjokes.htm

      JE comments:  Just three days ago, the British discount airline Flybmi closed up shop, claiming Brexit as the reason: "Fly By (Night), Money Irretrievable"?  This is all I can think of at 7 in the morning.

      March 29th is just six weeks away.  Have there been other moments of indigestion in UK businesses?

      (John, since this is a language discussion, isn't it "bugger" and not "begger/beggar"?)

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      • British Oaths: Minced or Extra-Salty? (John Heelan, UK 02/21/19 4:01 AM)
        John E asked me on February 19th: "Isn't it 'bugger' and not 'begger/beggar'?")

        Yes, I was being a bit mealy-mouthed.

        RyanAir is known locally as "RipOffAir" owing to its tendency to charge for service extras provided by more reliable airlines that actually fly to airports near the target cities.

        JE comments:  "Beggar" is a classic British minced oath.  Blooming (in lieu of bloody) also falls in this category.  We Americans have our fudge, shoot, and freaking.  Spaniards swear to the oysters (¡ostras!), instead of the proscribed Holy Host (hostias).

        Most WAISers are polyglots.  Here's a truism:  swear words in foreign languages never have the emotive power of your native own.  For Americans, even the British "bugger" and "bloody" sound quaint and exotic.  When I tell my students that the Spaniards' "hostias" is the most offensive expletive in their rich arsenal, they cannot see the problem with swearing to a communion wafer.

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        • Flying High with Goats: BWIA (Timothy Ashby, Spain 02/21/19 5:57 AM)
          Having spent my "formative" years in what were once known as the British West Indies, I must add a pair of alternative popular renderings for the only two airlines that flew into Grenada in the 1960s and ´70s, British West Indian Airways (BWIA) and Leeward Islands Air Transport (LIAT):

          BWIA - Better Walk If Able

          LIAT - Luggage Is At Terminal

          Considering the abysmal service and maintenance problems of both regional carriers, both of these alternatives were all too accurate!

          I once flew on a BWIA flight with a pilot so drunk that he scraped both wingtips while wobbling to a landing. Another time a woman brought a goat aboard in St. Vincent for the hop to Grenada ("Birthday present for me sistah," she told me). The goat was tethered in aisle during the flight.

          JE comments:  Fighter pilots during the Great War were famous for downing a bottle of champagne prior to takeoff.  I believe the custom had been lost by WWII, but apparently not for BWIA!

          "Present for me sistah"--precious, Tim!

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          • Flying High with Goats (John Heelan, UK 02/22/19 3:22 AM)
            Re goats (see Tim Ashby, 21 February):

            For many years my next-door neighbour was an airline captain flying between African capitals. Some of his stories were horrifying. For example not only did he have goats as passengers but also their owners delighted in brewing up their drinks in the luggage area using butane-fueled gas burners.

            Regarding wobbly landings, a group of us flew after a conference from Nice to LHR where we experienced a "heavy landing," also known in airline speak as a "controlled crash." The Cabin Services Director earned herself a round of applause from the passengers when she remarked: "As you might have noticed, we have landed!"

            JE comments:  American Airlines welcomes goats no more.  In 2018 it banned a long list of emotional-support animals.  No more flying snakes or hedgehogs, either, although properly trained miniature horses are OK.


            Here's a feel-good video about a different kind of flying goat.  Well worth a click:


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            • Flying Goats and Kaiser Wilhelm (from Gary Moore) (John Eipper, USA 02/23/19 4:42 AM)
              Gary Moore writes:

              Re JE's video appended to John Heelan (February 22):

              Our Eco-Heroes Blindfold Flying Goats: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M3xSWXDYDqc

              We've come a long way since Kaiser Wilhelm would lean over a pen packed with exotic animals and blast away, calling it sport.

              JE comments: Gary, I believe this is a poem:

              We've come a long way

              Since Kaiser Wilhelm would lean over

              A pen packed with exotic animals

              And blast away, calling it sport.

              (Me again):  Killing big game to assert your masculinity is something I've never understood.  Fortunately, the Kaiser's era is in the past...or not?  Remember ex-King Juan Carlos and his elephant-hunting boondoggle, mistress in tow.

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            • Emotional Support Animals (Paul Pitlick, USA 02/23/19 9:12 AM)
              John E brought up emotional-support animals. Here is a discussion about ESAs which I remember from a few years ago. At first I thought it was serious, but I'm thinking now that it's mostly tongue-in-cheek.


              JE comments:  Yes, I'm pretty sure the author is pulling our leg about a Bar Mitzvah for her Emotional Support turtle.  But ESA culture is becoming a big part of American life.  Is anything similar happening in other countries?

              Goska, WAIS Forum's former Assistant Editor, is now an officially registered ESA.  My cat sitter became so enamored of "The G" that she asked to adopt her.  How could I refuse such a request?  Kitty now has a new identity (Maggie), a new home, and a flourishing career.

              (It's been way too long since we've done cat photos on WAIS.)

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              • Meet Bernie, Canine Groom (Phyllis Gardner, USA 02/24/19 3:51 AM)
                Don't forget the woman who recently married her ESA dog. She has a terminal illness, so she wanted a wedding with all the trimmings!  Here's the NYT report:


                JE comments:  This is a touching and oh-so American story.  The bride, Lilly Smartelli of Phoenix, planned the wedding to call attention to organ donation and animal welfare.  (Lilly graduated from Wayne State University in Detroit, my former employer.)

                ESAs are resonating with WAISers.  See Enrique Torner, next.

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              • Meet Cody, Would-Be ESA (Enrique Torner, USA 02/24/19 4:13 AM)
                Cody, our sweet toy poodle, is almost blind in one eye, but has been a great emotional support to my wife and me for over 15 years!

                All he wants is to give and receive love.  He's always wanting to be held, and everybody loves to oblige! When I told him about the opportunity of being an Emotional Support Animal, he jumped, but not at the opportunity to do that: he just wants us!

                So, sorry, guys!

                JE comments:  Awww.  (Does any language other than English have a single word to convey cuteness and an overall sense of emotional warmth?  Awww does the trick.)

                Here's Cody, below.  Animals have been providing emotional support for millennia, but only now have we bureaucratized the role with documents and corresponding vests.  (Jeff Bezos will sell you one for $29.95:  https://www.amazon.com/EMOTIONAL-Matching-Emotional-Industrial-Puppy/dp/B01CPOVEJY )

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    • Endho: Gary Moore Unravels the Mystery (John Eipper, USA 02/20/19 3:34 AM)

      Gary Moore writes:

      In the riddle I posed to WAIS on "Endhó," the name of
      Mexico's most poisonous lake, I asked where in the world
      this strange name had come from. "Endhó?" Not Spanish.
      Not even Aztec.

      John E thought it might be an acronym, prompting
      John Heelan into airy veins with Qantas quips. But acronyms
      have nothing to do with this riddle's deep solution.

      Brian Blodgett (Feb 18) found that a 2015 visitor to the lake
      reported a village there as also being named "Endhó." So was
      the lake named for the village? Unfortunately, a village with that
      name seems to be known to few besides the shocked visitor who
      made the report. The settlements surrounding the almost apocalyptically
      polluted Endhó Reservoir, in backlands two hours north of Mexico City,
      have other names. At any rate the mysterious word "endhó," crowning
      the "largest septic tank in the world," does not seem to derive from a
      village. So where? The riddle mushrooms--because the strange name is
      also strangely armored against Web searching. Unless...

      To get beyond the realm of ordinary cyber-search, one can resort
      to what might be called keyword deconstruction, for a back door into
      Endhó's linguistic maze. The origins, in tune with the Stygian geography,
      can thus be found in the depths.

      For centuries, the high but arid Valle del Mezquital, the lake's home area,
      has been viewed as a forlorn wasteland, home to a cryptic native people
      long ago conquered by the Aztecs, who called these people the Otomí,
      though they themselves, stubbornly surviving today, call themselves the
      Hñähñu (very roughly meaning "right-speakers"). The word "endhó" is theirs--though it has little to do with another obvious first guess, asking whether "endhó"
      might simply be a slurring of the name "Hñähñu." It's not. Instead, like Dante's
      Virgil, it leads ever deeper into lost time and space.

      "Proverbial is the sterility of the great inhospitable and unproductive span of
      the Mezquital," grumbled a 1947 study, describing a land "inhabited by the Otomís,
      one of the native Mexican groups most known for misery and poverty." Ah, but
      there was hope. The same study promised that "such a situation is going to be
      remedied, in large part, by the construction." It meant the construction of a new dam
      and reservoir, underway in 1947, with nothing polluted in its purpose: "More than
      100,000 indigenous people will be benefited by this work." The new reservoir was
      to store rainwater for irrigation and flood control. It might even attract tourists.

      But that was in the administration of President Miguel Alemán (1947-1952). By the 1970s,
      Mexico's monumental builder was in the National Palace. President Luis Echeverria would
      not only create a distant tourist Oz (Cancún) from mangrove swamps, but sweepingly
      relieved Mexico City by digging "the world's largest sewer," officially known (in a growing
      pattern of discreet ambiguity) as the "deep drain" (el drenaje profundo)--which, incredibly far
      beneath the earth, ran its great tunnel 50 miles north to pour monumentally untreated city
      sewage into placidly waiting Endhó.

      Result today: "There are no fish," though there are many more "cyanides, detergents, grease,
      oils, nitrites, nitrates, phosphates, fecal material, and heavy metals."

      Still, this explains only the eventual epic fate. What of the original prophetic name?
      That name was already in place on the reservoir as early as 1947, during construction.
      Yet no archive (at least in facile cyberspace) would seem to retain any glowing speeches
      by President Miguel Alemán explaining just why he had chosen this particular name,
      with its mystifying blend of distinctly un-Mexican-looking consonants--its signal
      digraph: en-DH-o? What in the world was this? Soon buried under posterity's avoidance
      of the monumental smell, any explanation given at the time of origin seems to have
      disappeared completely.

      (And my apologies now for this word-tunnel being so long, a "deep drain" all its own).

      The 1947 study did boast that the fine new reservoir might somehow help another
      nagging problem, that of local illiteracy, in a crusade "long since begun among the Otomi."
      In 1940, President Manuel Ávila Camacho, the last presidential warhorse from the old fires of
      Revolution, made his own bid for modernization, addressing the 2.2 million Mexicans who were
      "indígenas monolingues," people speaking only an ancient tongue unlike Spanish. The National
      Literacy Campaign began. By 1945, every literate adult Mexican was being exhorted to teach
      at least one illiterate adult.

      The Otomís were one of five indigenous groups on the front lines, receiving stacks of 148-page
      teaching booklets, written in both Hñähñu and Spanish, with mixed results. The 1945 census
      showed that, still, 43 percent of Mexicans were illiterate. Not until 1949 did the Otomí receive
      an official alphabet, and not until 1950 a formally written vocabulary. When President Alemán,
      or some acolyte, named the new reservoir, that namer was reaching deeply into the world of
      ancient orality.

      Meanwhile, interest in the crusade was waning. Among the Otomí, not only parents but the teachers
      themselves were protesting hotly against the new teaching program--because they wanted teaching
      exclusively in Spanish, not Otomí. They were interested in going forward into modernity, not back into
      the mists. The government closed down its Department of Indigenous Autonomy. In 1948 some said that
      two out of three Mexicans, still, could not read.

      But the President could wield some symbols. A consolation prize was created in 1951, the Otomí
      Indigenous Patrimony. And there was the lake to name.

      It was dedicated in 1952. Perhaps at that time the name, decoded at last in the passage just below,
      needed no explanation.

      The decoding key is in the digraph. It can be interpreted in various ways, having gone through the wringer of
      Townsend phonetics in the literacy campaign. One can stop and consider that a "dh" digraph, if used in Spanish,
      can seem a bit redundant--because the letter "d" in Spanish already has a soft sound, much like phonetic "dh."
      Hence the name of the lake became armored against Web searches. Its antecedent, the original Otomí word,
      took the spelling in a different direction. In the late 1940s the lake's name had two alternative spellings.
      both aimed at the same pronunciation. "Endho" was the preferred, more official one.

      But cyberspacee somehow grows more responsive if one searches the other spelling: "PRESA ENDO."
      True, one of the Internet's mapping sites spits this out, scolding that there is “No Presa Endo...” But other
      geo-sites accept the slight misspelling happily, and say that, yes, it is the name of the dark lake (as the 1940s
      also said). And then, if permutations like "endo" and "entho" are taken to Otomí dictionary sites,
      we begin approaching--but still do not quite yet reach--the central irony.

      Because endo/endho/entho means "deep."

      This might seem a logical, harmless term for a busy president to place on a new ethnic lake-symbol.
      However, its flowering into larger echoes appears in a single Web reference, tucked away in a rare
      Hñähñu literary work. That glimpse into the old oral catacombs comes from a native-speaking informant
      who is identified in the work only as Ausencia.

      And Ausencia said, regarding a word she spelled as "entho":

      "It is a word that is very Hñähñu, because it means "así no más" ["just like that"--JE]. In other words, she saw "deep" as being
      also an interjection, a burst of complex meaning not subject to easy translation--on the surface seeming to mean
      everything and nothing, but in its depths suggesting a sort of stoicism, a resignation merging the inevitable with
      the sublime.

      If this seems a stretch, Ausencia went on to say that the word carried meanings, all at once, of "contented" and "blessed"
      ("complacido, bendecido"), in the sense of "that's just how things happen." Practically on Endhó's shore stand the ancient
      pyramids of Tula, to which the Otomí people fell heir, before the Aztecs came in turn. The glimpse from Ausencia seems
      almost to say that any eventuality, however dark, is blessed by its divine creation. And so take it as it comes.

      As dark waters poured in, was this too just the way things had to be--in the same ancient cycles that now find Mezquital
      farmers with another kind of fame, as their maze of hand-dug irrigation canals taps into the lake's cooperative flow,
      in what is called the world's largest use of untreated sewage for irrigated fertilization?

      As with many cultures--así es la vida, Che sará sará, C'est la vie--is this word, at least in part, a vast, irreducible shrug,
      spying in the dark mirror what is merely the other face of the divine?

      Thus it is.

      JE comments:  Gary, you've turned a mega-sewer into epic poetry!  This is a masterful essay, and also a service to cyberspace.  No longer will the etymology of "endhó" resist web searches.

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