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Proceedings 10 : "Pozu del Xitu"

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A Survey of Abysmal Etymology

by Martin Laverty

Fundamental Principles

Names are useful things. They are usually more than mere identifiers and the study of the history of individual words is etymology. Here, it is not intended to analyse the etymology of 'etymology' or anything as mentally deep as that but to give the light of day to some pretty darkly obscure meaning behind the names of some caves and the passages in them. The bestowing of such names is one of the lesser sung joys of exploring new passages, or sometimes of just being landed with completing the associated reporting and surveying. Many approaches have been adopted; a few are illustrated in this article and many in caving literature as a whole. To start with, let's look at some rules of nomenclature.

Rule 1

Some people perpetuate puns upon passages, possibly perplexing people.

Rule 2

In view of rule 1, rules would be unworkable. Therefore there are no rules.

Rule 3

As there are no rules, this might sound silly; but the Union Internationale de Speleologie thought of it, so Rule 3 is: 'The names of each cave or system should be stated in the language or dialect of its area. Synonyms should be indicated, to avoid confusion, as should the names of different entrances. Whimsical names, such as those of discoverers or explorers, should be avoided insofar as possible.'

Back to Boring Basics

One can be totally objective if one wants to. This can be very boring (The Streamway), or not so boring (The Big Chamber Near the Entrance), or not as boring as it might seem (The Borehole). Boring bits might in fact have rather good names as there wasn't a lot else to keep the explorers' minds busy except thinking of names. This doesn't always work though - no one could think of a suitable anagram during the exploration of Anagram Passage.


To become immortal it helps to die. Adamson, Boireau, Frakes and Ogden were all unfortunate enough not to live to see this in action. Also Loubens and Plumley. You might manage this status less tragically, as did Hardy after his Horror, Colin for his Climax or Calamity. You might even just be able to grab lots of glory through publicity - especially if you're French (Casteret with his Grotte, Martel with his Gouffre...) or an explorer's girlfriend (Puits Josyanne in PSM). It is to be hoped that no one wants to call a cave in Ireland after an Ox (or even the Ox which is OUCC's alma mater) because, despite classical allusions to Castor's twin the Poll so dedicated could produce misunderstandings after a good night's drinking... More poetic is Lady Blue's Underwater Fantasy. Another type of dedication is revealed by names such as Stemple Rift, Blasted Hole and Fat Man's Agony.

Some More Ploys - Show Biz

Can anything top Salle Today Night's Fever?!

The Classics

Pluto's Bath, Vulcan Pot and River Styx and names of that ilk recall one age of literature; the 39 Steps another; and Shelob's Lair, Rivendell, Gandalf's Gallery etc. perhaps the most popular of late.

The Truth

Various ploys can be adopted here using:
a) the date
Whitsun Passage, Easter Grotto, Christmas Hole.
b) The Obvious
La Cueva, Cueva del Rio, the Dark Cave belong here.
c) The Passage's Way of Impressing Itself On You
Razor Passage, Sore Knees Creep, Kneewrecker, Sahara Passage all typify this ploy.


are an alternative but usually come under "Rhetoric".

Figures of Speech

are very popular. Alliteration, hyperbole, litotes, onomatopoeia (Tinkle Crawl) are among the most used.


Was it Wet? or Estaba Frondosa? typify this. (Ref: Caving International No. 3 (1979), p. 33).

After seeing this minute selection from the rich hoards of cave and passage names already adopted, what did we come up with in Xitu? Read on!

Xitu by Name...

That the 1979 expedition didn't have much time for talk is shown by the lack of names bestowed in that year, although, as good followers of Rule 3, OUCC 1/5 became Pozu del Xitu after its position near the col known locally as El Xitu. Down the Entrance Series you go through Climax Rift towards the 19m via the Marlow, and then the Blue Water Pitches lead to Customs Hall (lots of barriers?), the Inlet and the Active Streamway. The Trench Pitches were only named when it emerged as necessary for the report, as was Cover Picture Aven. Only Chopper and Pearl Pitches were named beyond here.

In 1980, the previous year's bottom was passed on trips giving rise to the naming of Somme Climbs - partly due to them being in the Trench Series and partly to the near demise of certain climbers - and Happy Pitch, where Marvin decidedly wasn't. Boring people want to call it Grey Pitch. Dave entered Teresa Series for the first time - how this reflects on his girlfriend's past, posterity may speculate - and carried on past the sandy White Nile (no hovercraft or camels required) and New Orleans ('they call the rising sump...') to Servicio which was a relief before Constipated Blue Whale. The Gap in William's education was immortalised for the trouble he had - and gave - at GBU. The Pilling potholer took a tumble at Pilling Slip and Kev's dream came true at an insignificant little puddle called Dream Lake. The Road to Rack Ruin - one for every two trips - leads to Flat Iron which is F...ing Enormous (Fe, see?) and even more obscure in its complete etymology. The Eton School song is not often sung down deep holes so Eton Palais was named in honour of such a rare event. After the Boulder Chambers in which Combined Tactics is an interesting climb you feel pretty committed by the time you reach Lemming's Leap, leading by Samaritan Streamway to the Samaritan Pitches. The commitment shows in the way the Road to Damascus was not thought of. Veined rock and drops leads down the Marble Steps to the 'splashy' Dampturation Pitch followed by the right angle buttressed Pythagoras Pitch. PAFS Pot is where Piles Arose From Suspension and leads to Cheesegrater - a narrow, jagged rift - Choss-chock Pitch which was rather dubiously rigged and the final pitch of 1980 which was first ravaged by rope and tape - hence (?) Rape B'rape. Other 1980 explorations were the awkward upstream Traversity Streamway - a travesty of a streamway requiring much traversing - with its greasy Easy Slider section and Ming Series - something to do with vases although it certainly didn't lead to any monumental pots.

1981 saw the pushing of the main route down the Flier, named after an 18 hour BSC shift (it was found 18 hours in) and Ferdies Delight - another caving suit shredder to the Classic Numbers climbs before and after Campers Pot - the first fruits of the expedition from the camp at almost exactly a kilometre down. Cobblers Pot was the 'last' pitch in the cave, and Xitu's Last Stand was the final nasty section before the final easing up on the way to Stag Sump, where a Royal Wedding flag was left in celebration of the following day's events back home. Elsewhere, El Puritan was pronounced disgusting and a hazard to healthy living - but it did try to make men hard. Snowcastle was almost fairy tale in its purity and beauty and William's Bits proved quite extensive, even including GOETHE Passage - the Greatest Oxbow Ever To Have Existed - an insignificant grovel.

Exercise for the Reader

Identify the caves in which above passages are found.

Prizes for the Reader

The chance to completely resurvey Xitu or publish a second edition of this report.