victor steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Sun Feb 28 17:57:14 UTC 2010

The reason why "we" don't call them "tidal waves" is because they have
nothing to do with tides and "tidal wave" describes an entirely
different phenomenon already. Basically, calling tsunami a tidal wave
is a mistake, not merely a "disfavored" term, as Wiki puts it. The
reason why dictionaries often have a phrase translating a single word
is because there is no original word to describe the same concept in
the other language. The main reason why tsunami was borrowed is
because it neatly compacts a specific phenomenon that needed a
description. But if you want to translate the word anyway, there is a
perfectly adequate dictionary entry that describes it far more
accurately than "harbor wave". Just like an English word "dumbass" (or
"dumb-ass") comes from a phrase that means something like
"speech-impaired donkey" (which is how each part of the word may be
translated into *another* language), but this translation would mean
absolutely nothing in the context in which it is use.

So, in a sentence, "Some dumbass thinks tsunami is a tidal wave," both
"dumbass" and "tsunami" are used idiomatically and need something
other than a literal translation. More importantly, "tsunami" has
become an international denomination in many languages and not just in


On Sun, Feb 28, 2010 at 12:23 PM, Tom Zurinskas <truespel at hotmail.com> wrote:
> We old folks use to call them "tidal waves."  Run for your life!  We never heard the word "tsunami".  Why that term came into vogue I don't know.
> "Tsunami" is Japanese for "harbor wave", but is it any clearer saying that the earthquake spawned a huge "harbor wave" around the ocean rather than "tidal wave?"  I think not.  Perhaps it makes some sense when you think that harbors don't have waves because they are protected by surrounding land.  Thus, if there is a wave in a harbor (and only seizmically caused iant waves can waves come through) it's a "harbor wave".  Run for your life!
> Neither term is the best, but of the two, tsunami is worse because the wave hits more than harbors and the spelling is not phonetic.  It starts with a silent "t", which makes it hard to look up.
> I think a better term would be "seizmic wave", caused by earth-moving events because it appears that all tidal waves are caused by earth moving events - plate tectonics.  Plate tectonics was not accepted until after I graduated college awhile back.  I had a teacher poo-poo the concept.
> from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tsunami
> Etymology
> The term tsunami comes from the Japanese, meaning "harbor" (tsu,  $BDE (B) and "wave" (nami,  $BGH (B). (For the plural, one can either follow ordinary English practice and add an s, or use an invariable plural as in the Japanese.[5])
> Tsunami are sometimes referred to as tidal waves. In recent years, this term has fallen out of favor, especially in the scientific community, because tsunami actually have nothing to do with tides. The once-popular term derives from their most common appearance, which is that of an extraordinarily high tidal bore. Tsunami and tides both produce waves of water that move inland, but in the case of tsunami the inland movement of water is much greater and lasts for a longer period, giving the impression of an incredibly high tide. Although the meanings of "tidal" include "resembling"[6] or "having the form or character of"[7] the tides, and the term tsunami is no more accurate because tsunami are not limited to harbours, use of the term tidal wave is discouraged by geologists and oceanographers.
> Tom Zurinskas, USA - CT20, TN3, NJ33, FL7+
> see truespel.com phonetic spelling

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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