Origin of "El Nino"

El Nino is back again, and weather patterns will be dramatically different this winter. Of course, meteorologist can't say *how* they'll be different, the factions are equally split between "worst in history" and "mildest ever", between "torrential rains" and "a winter of drought".

While the effects of El Nino are unknown, the origin of the phrase is not. So here, before you freeze (or bake) and get soaked (or thirsty) is the origin of El Nino.

El Nino's direct translation is "too hot beast of burden" but that doesn't flow, so it is usually translated as "warm little mule".

It's etmology is spanish-french. Well, spanish-french-canadian, an obscure dialect blending the rhythm of Spanish, the precision of French, with the devil-may-care attitude of Canada. Not widely used, originally prevalent mostly in the 300 block of Main Street in Quebeque between 1850 and 1880. Historically preserved because of "El Nino", but little else is known of the actual syntactic construction.

"El Nino" originated during the unusually warm winter of 1875-1876. From 1869 to 1898 there was a beaver-hat manufacturing plant (now a Moosehead beer distribution center) at 325 N. Main run by the son of a Spanish immigrant and a Frenchman, Hector Guitain. Hector was a very successful businessman, his hats were considered the best of the breed and were demanded by the finest hat shops in the world. To maintain his high level of quality and the high production quantities, Hector needed a large and skilled workforce. Local labor was not available when Hector first opened the plant, since as we all recall 1869 was the "Year of Leisure" in Canada, the entire native Canadian population took the year off to celebrate the 100th anniversary of founding of the first recliner factory in 1769.

This left Hector without skilled labor. Fortunately he was able to hire many of the confused Spaniards who came to Qubeque in the great Toledo Emigration of 1867.

The Toledo emigration did not resemble other European-North American population movements. Those have been characterized by a desire for personal freedom, a lust for gold, a hope for education. The Toledo Emigration is characterized mostly by confusion. Over 30,000 residents (mostly male workers) moved from Spain to North America after a disgruntle railway ticket agent sold, over a period of 3 months, a ticket to Toledo, Ohio to every Spaniard who asked for a "Ducat el Toledo" instead of "Ducato es Toledo", he being a stickler for proper Spanish conjugation.

Obviously many of these involuntary transportees were disconcerted at being deposited in Toledo, Ohio (it still has that effect) as well as being somewhat hungry and dirty after an unusually long trip to Toledo. They wandered about aimlessly, and a large contingent arrived in Quebeque.

Hector was able to hire these men for very little money. The Spaniards were excellent felters and hat-blockers, but had little patience for the administrative side of the business (the maxim "Tolune Quel Artidad", meaning "Get a Spaniard to re-roll your hatbrim artistically, but not do your income taxes!", comes from the same period)

Beautiful hats were being made, but left to rot in the warehouse because no-one could process the orders and distribute the goods. Hector, who had originally done the bookkeeping, was now so often in Europe (smoking and promoting his signature cigarettes, another story for another day) that he needed to hire a regiment of clerks and warehousemen.

Half the area on Main Street was the Toledians, and soon the other half was was the more dull and routine-oriented Clerk-French that Hector hired to manage the operations. Clerk-French were an almost religious subculture that developed during the middle ages to insure that all the feathers needed for the Catholic Priesthood at Notre Dame were accounted for. They had come to Canada during the War of 1812 to maintain the inventory of lead balls, blankets, and boots for the Canadian army, and stayed, providing bookkeeping services to all the major industries. Their attraction to the hatmaking industry was very strong, since their own heads tended to be overlarge and bulged in odd places, so working in a hattery where custom hats could be obtained as part of a compensation package appealed to them greatly.

The integration of the Toledians and the Clerk-French was reasonably smooth, and a unique cross-dialect soon grew.

The hat business grew larger and larger, the hats had to be transported no matter what the weather, so from (roughly) November to March Hector hired sled teams to take his hats from the warehouse to the docks. The winter of 1875-1876 was very warm (for the same reasons that we are seeing warm water in the Pacific now) and the snow and ice had completely melted from the streets around the factory by the end of January. Hector had no money to contract for wheeled transport (the discovery of synthetic beaver fur in Brazil in 1871 had really started to affect Hector's business, though the synthetic fur tended to cause the hat-wearers hair to turn purple, it was cheaper) so he continued to use the sleds.

Throughout February the weather continued warm, and the constant scccrrraappping of the iron sled runners on the streets and the stench of the laboring mules who pulled the sleds was almost unendurable. Fortunately by February 13th the regular weather patterns had reasserted themselves, but the memory of that time stuck firmly in the communities collective minds, and the phrase "El Nino" was coined so they could all remember the noise and the smell caused by the weather.

The phrase may have stayed a local Quebecian bit of trivia but for the influence of organized crime and the later effects of mass media.

In 1892, Hector Guitain gave up his hat factory. Some say he was forced out by the Nordic Mafia, who had recently extorted 1 000 000 sheep from the government and were decreeing through terror that the "touq", or woolen cap, would become the national headgear of Canada replacing the beaver tophat. Hector was philosophically opposed to woolen headgear, and would not convert his plant, which meant he had to leave. He became rich selling the land and building to Moosehead.

He was then able to purchase a large unimproved area in Southern California and moved the whole community there. He promised the Toledians that he had found their original homes, and he promised the Clerk-French an extra .05 cent an hour. To honor their joint heritage he named the town La Canada, and to this day when the warm winds blow off the Pacific in the winter, they are called "El Nino" to remember that horrible winter in Quebec.

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