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Jack Smith

The Santa Ana or Santana: Whichever way the wind blows, it's still hot air

January 27, 1987|Jack Smith

I hoped never to mention the Santa Ana winds again, except to report their occasional presence.

They are Santa Anas, not Santanas, as I pointed out the other day.

But the winds of controversy still blow. Once a mythological etymology is established, it is hard to erase.

There is no point in reviewing the history of the word again, so I will give the floor to the Santanans.

Writes Wilma Simms Poe of Ventura, a retired school librarian: "An utterly charming, knowledgeable professor of geology at UCLA in the summer of 1942, when I was a teen-ager, informed our class that the winds were Santanas, not Santa Anas, and never, never be led astray. His name? Robert Webb Ph.D."

Noting that the Tin Lizzie was not tin and the Spruce Goose is not spruce, John Currin of Woodland Hills insists, "The warm dry winds that flow through the Cajon Pass over the Verdugo Hills or across the San Gabriel Mountains are equally misnamed. To call these winds chinooks, nor'easters, siroccos or even monsoons would be acceptable; but Santa Anas ? Never. The winds neither originate, terminate nor blow toward Santa Ana. . . . You are wrong, wrong, wrong. . . ."

I see no evidence for Santana in Currin's argument. His idea that the Santa Anas could be called monsoons, after the rainy winds of India and the Far East, is a measure of his error.

"By your logic," writes David W. Lawhorn, "and that of your previous journalists' sources, the San Fernando Valley people should be calling them Newhall winds and God knows what some Santa Paula Valley people should be calling them. . . .

"A hundred years from now this debate will still be going on and I suspect some yet unborn journalist will use your article as authority for justifying his paper on the subject. . . ." Well, it's a kind of immortality, isn't it?

Ironically, several readers who concede that the word is Santa Ana , agree with me that the pronunciation Santana results from a slurring of the two words, but argue that it is the Latinos who do this, not the Anglos, as I suggested.

"If the spelling is Santa Ana ," writes Byron Marshall of San Clemente, "then the correct (or at least common) pronunciation is Santana , because the Latinos drop one a if there are two together."

A more scholarly exposition of that point is made by Roger L. Utt, who spent "six grueling winters" at the University of Chicago as assistant professor of Spanish.

"There seems not a shadow of a doubt that the phenomenon in question is properly speaking a Santa Ana and not a Santana." As for its pronunciation, "Here you are mistaken in suggesting that Santana is merely an Anglo slurring of Santa Ana ."

Prof. Utt contends that it is the Spanish-speaking who slur their words, especially when successive words end and begin with vowels; thus, Santa Ana becomes Santana . The English-speaking insert a pause, "called a plus-juncture in phonetics," between the words--thus San-ta a-na. But, picking up the Spanish intonations of Southern California, the Anglo also tends to say santana .

Pam Burris of Santa Barbara encloses a page from a Spanish textbook that observes, "In English when two like vowels follow each other speakers make a slight pause between them: Mary eats , go over , say eight . In Spanish two consecutive like vowels are pronounced as a single vowel. . . ."

The irony of this argument is that some years ago when I first questioned the use of Santana , I suggested that it was a Latino slurring of Santa Ana , only to be chastised by Frank Sifuentes of El Centro as an "Anglophile."

"Spanish-speaking people do not slur Santa Ana ," he wrote. "Of course when you hear with the 'ears of a stranger,' no matter how correctly Spanish people say it, it will sound slurred. The theory that it is English-speaking settlers who slur Santa Ana is more scientific. But I wonder if it matters to an Anglophile intent on writing witty articles for the consumption of Anglomania."

Stung by his imputation of bigotry, I meekly deferred to Sifuentes' assurance that Latinos do not slur their words. Now it appears that he was mistaken.

Fay Fletcher of Glendale writes that members of her husband's family have been ranchers in the areas of Downey and Lynwood for almost a hundred years.

"It is my clearest recollection that they all spoke frequently of the winds and invariably called them Santy Anas . To me this indicated two words were involved-- Santa and Ana . These words were telescoped much as might be done with Santy Claus instead of Santa Claus ."

On another tack, Philip Acosta of Montrose (a.k.a. Felipe de la Cruz Acosta) argues that Francisco Coronado and the other early Spanish explorers referred to the Santa Ana winds as Los Vientos de Satanas (with an accent over the final a --the Winds of the Devil. Satanas easily became corrupted to santanas , he suggests.

If so, how did we get that first n into Santana ?

I don't suppose anyone involved in this controversy would accept the definition of Webster's Third International Dictionary, but, for the record, it says:

santa ana (usu cap), from Santa Ana mountains, range in Southwestern California where the wind is channeled through the Santa Ana Canyon whence it spreads over the coastal plain; a strong hot dry foehn wind from the north, northeast or east in Southern California.

It also says:

santana (usu cap): Santa Ana.

Let it blow.

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