tsunami vs. tidal wave

Discuss word origins and meanings.

tsunami vs. tidal wave

Post by Archived Topic » Sat Dec 18, 2004 8:34 pm

With ‘tsunami’ in the news, I began to wonder if there was any difference between a ‘tidal wave,’ which was the expression that I had grown up with, and the more recent (at least to me) term ‘tsunami.’ I was in Alaska on good Friday of 1964 when we were hit with one of the strongest earthquakes every recorded, a 9.2 on the Richter scale. The Air Force spotted a ‘tidal wave,’ most of us never heard of tsunami in those days, headed for the city of Seward and we (I was in the Army at the time) were flown in to help evacuate the town just hours before it was predicted that the wave would hit. The force of the wave and the devastation was unbelievable and the entire town (railroad cars and all) was washed up onto the side of a hill. And here it is 40 years later and, as far as I can tell, there was no warning given for this most recent disaster – I find that hard to comprehend.

The use of ‘tidal wave’ for a large, destructive ocean wave, most usually produced by a submarine earthquake, volcanic eruption, or coastal landslide, but also possibly by a hurricane, or strong wind, is a misnomer – for it has no connection with the tides. The phrase ‘tidal wave,’ which first appeared in 1830, is actually either of the two great wavelike swellings of the ocean surface that move around the earth on opposite sides and give rise to tides, caused by the attraction of the moon and sun. Sometime in the 1800s (see 1878 quote), ‘tidal wave’ became confused with what now might properly be called a ‘seismic sea wave’ or ‘tsunami’ (Japanese, from ‘tsu,’ port, harbor + ‘nami’ wave, first appearing in English print in 1897). The original misuse of ‘tidal wave’ was probably a result of the fact that there was no proper generally recognized word for the phenomenon at the time and it, more or less, filled the void. ‘Tidal wave’ was being used figuratively as a great progressive movement or manifestation of feeling, opinion, or the like by 1870 (see quote below). ‘Tsunami’ wasn’t being used in a similar figurative sense until about 1970.

Today, many dictionaries still list ‘tidal wave’ as a synonym for ‘tsunami,’ although it is being used less and less and, in fact, I did not see that word used once in reference to Sunday’s disaster.
<1830 “On mathematical principles, the rise of the TIDAL WAVE above the mean level of a particular sea must be greater than the fall below it.”—‘Principles of Geology’ by Lyell, I. page 293>

<1870 “We'll have somebody standing ready to launch a book right on our big TIDAL WAVE and swim it into a success.”—‘Letters to Publishers’ (1967) by Mark Twain, page 45> [[early figurative use]]

<1878 “The terrible devastation wrought by the great TIDAL WAVE, which followed the earthquake at Lima”—‘Physiography: An introduction to the Study of Nature’ by T. S. Huxley, page 2>

<1888 “Now and then . . . there comes a rush of feeling so sudden and tremendous, that the name of TIDAL WAVE has been invented to describe it.”—‘The American Commonwealth,’ by Bryce, III. iv. lxxx. page 62>

<1897. 24 ‘TSUNAMI!’ shrieked the people; and then all shrieks and all sounds and all power to hear sounds were annihilated by a nameless shock . . . as the colossal swell smote the shore with a weight that sent a shudder through the hills.”—‘Gleaning in Buddha-Fields’ by L. Hearn, i. page 24>

<1899 “The TIDAL WAVE sweeps round the earth twice in the twenty-four hours; the great wave produced by an earthquake, erroneously described sometimes as a ‘TIDAL WAVE’, has nothing tidal about it, and it is called by scientific men ‘a free wave’.”—‘Daily News,’ 13 June, page 8/2>

<1972 “The Food and Drug Administration . . . is currently swimming through a TSUNAMI of comments generated by its announced intention to alter the regulations concerning the dispensation of methadone.”—‘Science,’ 11 August, page 502/1>
(Oxford English Dictionary, Random House and Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged Dictionaries)


Submitted by Ken Greenwald (Fort Collins, CO - U.S.A.)
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tsunami vs. tidal wave

Post by Archived Reply » Sat Dec 18, 2004 8:47 pm

In this morning’s news, I did find the use of the phrase ‘tidal wave’:
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BANDA ACEH, Indonesia - MSNBC News Services, Updated 11:03 a.m. ET Dec. 28, 2004: The death toll from the epic TIDAL WAVES that rocked 11 countries rose to around 44,000 people on Tuesday after Sri Lanka and Indonesia significantly increased their confirmed deaths.
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Ken G – December 28, 2004

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tsunami vs. tidal wave

Post by Archived Reply » Sat Dec 18, 2004 9:01 pm

Ken,
Tidal Wave most often refers to the Atlantic Ocean and regions, while Tsunami refers to the Pacific Ocean and its regions. A Tidal Surge may have nothing to due with the tides, although it is commonly used to discribe coastal flooding due to a hurricane.

Gregg, Halifax
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tsunami vs. tidal wave

Post by Archived Reply » Sat Dec 18, 2004 9:14 pm

due=do
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tsunami vs. tidal wave

Post by Archived Reply » Sat Dec 18, 2004 9:27 pm

Gregg, I’m not sure the distinction that you mention between the ‘Atlantic tidal waves’ and the ‘Pacific tsunamis’ actually exists. A Google search on “tsunami December 26, 2004’ versus “tidal wave December 26, 2004” produced ~220,000 vs. ~74,0000 hits, which although it is about 3:1 ratio (and probably more due to the fact that ‘tsunami’ is the technically correct term than anything else) is still a significant vote for ‘tidal wave’ in the Pacific. And sifting through some of these hits, I found that ‘tidal wave’ was used for Sunday’s event in the Pacific by such organizations as ‘The Associated Press’(AP), ‘MSNBC,’ ‘The New York Times’ “Voice of America,’ ‘The Sunday Telegraph’ (Australia), ‘The Star Tribune (Minneapolis), Economic Times (India), . . .

A strong argument against your thesis, in addition to the above, plus the very definition of tsunami, however, was the discussion I found entitled ‘Tsunamis in the Atlantic Ocean’ (Hawaii Institute of Geophysics and Planetology) at http://www.soest.hawaii.edu/GG/ASK/tsunamis.html, which argues that there are just ‘fewer’ tsunamis in the Atlantic, but that both subduction-zone-generated and landslide-generated tsunamis occur there.
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Ken G – December 28, 2004

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tsunami vs. tidal wave

Post by Archived Reply » Sat Dec 18, 2004 9:41 pm

A tidal surge is nothing to do with a tsunami, but a complex sea condition in which the level of the sea rises above normal due to an area of low pressure above it (typically associated with a storm system) with an increased probability of coastline inundation because of the interaction of the increased sea level, tides (especially unusually high tides), wind velocity and coastal profile.

For instance, the storm surge that flooded the east coast of England and the southwest coast of the Netherlands during the night of Saturday, 31 January 1953 was generated by an intense, rapidly moving, low-pressure weather system which travelled southeast across the North Sea, producing very high winds over an offshore region from northeast Scotland to the Netherlands. Augmented by a high tide, the surge swept southwards, overwhelming flood defences in both countries and causing the worst natural disaster in northern Europe for two centuries.

The effects of the southward surge were exacerbated by the funnelling effect of the convergence of the coastlines of Britain and northern continental Europe, which forced the water upwards and helped it to breach the sea defences.
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Post by Archived Reply » Sat Dec 18, 2004 9:54 pm

Next time you are all sitting next to a fucking big wave that is traveling at the speed of a light aircraft and are surrounded by several dead friends and lots of buildings that are now debris,some of them yours, then talk to me again about the difference between a "tsunami" and a "tidal wave". I might even bother to politely reply.
Rob 29dec04
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Post by Archived Reply » Sat Dec 18, 2004 10:07 pm

Ken, if you were to use data from a Pacific Island such as Hawaii it makes sence they would refer to "tsunami" rather than "Tidal Wave". I have done limited research on this because I have asked this question before and the overwhelming response was Atlantic and Pacific. Although I do agree Tsunami is a more appropriate term.

Gregg
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Post by Archived Reply » Sat Dec 18, 2004 10:21 pm

Hurricane vs. Typhoons This also has a regional use.

Gregg
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Post by Archived Reply » Sat Dec 18, 2004 10:34 pm

Gregg, We are not talking about local data from Hawaii. We are talking about a report from the Institute of Geophysics at the University of Hawaii, which is not confined to using local data, especially for events that occur in the Atlantic. (<:)
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Ken G – December 29, 2004

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tsunami vs. tidal wave

Post by Archived Reply » Sat Dec 18, 2004 10:47 pm

tidal_wave
A noun
1 tidal_wave, tsunami

a huge destructive wave (especially one caused by an earthquake)

tsunami [tsʊn¨»:mi:, sʊn¨»:mi:]
A noun
1 tidal_wave, tsunami

a huge destructive wave (especially one caused by an earthquake)

The definitions are identical, although the origin and "strict" meaning are different. I would think that "tidal" in this context is as correct as tsunami, meaning harbour wave. Neither truly defines what is considered to be a seismic sea wave. Tidal refers to the effects of the wave, that is to say that an ultra low tide is manifested first immediately followed by an ultra high tide, thus tidal wave, independant of the origin of the wave. Although tsunami has come to be used more frequently, this could be attributed to the eloquence of using a term from a foreign language.....Peking or Beijing?

Everyone will agree that the destructive power of either one is the same! Ta ta, or is that Adieu, or Adios, or bye, whichever.
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Post by Archived Reply » Sat Dec 18, 2004 11:01 pm

Tidal waves, or tsunamis, in the Pacific Ocean are relatively common and it is well known that a tsunami generated from an earthquake in a specific area may travel thousands of miles. It is not surprising, then, that the effects of the Lisbon earthquake were felt in Newfoundland. Rev. Philip Tocque, an Anglican minister born in Carbonear, wrote, in his book Wandering Thoughts, about the tidal wave when in hit Bonavista.

Most of the information found on the "Web" is related to the South Pacific. 90 percent of recorded tsunamis have occurred there. I did find the above in a report on the Newfoundland Tidal Wave of 1929.

Gregg, Dec.30/04
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Post by Archived Reply » Sat Dec 18, 2004 11:14 pm

From http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=s ... &e=4&ncid=

Tidal wave or tsunami?


Wed Dec 29, 8:29 PM ET


PARIS (AFP) - The giant, deadly waves of seawater that crashed through coastal towns in Asia and parts of east Africa last weekend are commonly called tidal waves, but that term is not strictly correct, say scientists, who prefer the word "tsunami".

The walls of water that smashed into Sri Lanka, India, Indonesia, Thailand and other countries in the region were caused by a massive shift of tectonic plates under the Indian Ocean -- a sea quake -- and were not caused by the moon's pull, which creates tidal phenomena, they noted.
Tsunami, a word borrowed from Japan, where earthquakes are common, is considered more apt -- even though it literally means "harbour wave" and the fury unleashed last Sunday was more far more widespread than that.
The US Geological Survey, which forms part of the international Tsunami Warning System for the Pacific Ocean, defines a tsunami as "a wave or series of waves that are generated by a sudden disturbance that displaces water."
It adds that they are "typically caused by earthquakes and landslides in coastal regions."
The term "tidal wave," it says, "is a misnomer.... The impact of a tsunami upon a coastline is partially dependent upon the tidal level at the time it strikes, but its generation is unrelated to ocean tides."
The Australian Academy of Science agrees, calling the term tidal wave "inaccurate".
The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA (news - web sites)) says on an explanatory webpage: "The phenomenon we call a tsunami is a series of waves of extremely long wavelength and period generated in a body of water by an impulsive disturbance that displaces the water.
"Although tsunamis are often referred to as 'tidal waves' by English-speaking people, they are not caused by the tides and are unrelated to them."

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Post by Archived Reply » Sat Dec 18, 2004 11:27 pm

From a site hosted by the Department of Earth and Space Sciences at the University of Washington, http://www.geophys.washington.edu/tsuna ... aning.html :

Tsunami is a Japanese word with the English translation, "harbor wave." Represented by two characters, the top character, "tsu," means harbor, while the bottom character, "nami," means "wave." In the past, tsunamis were sometimes referred to as "tidal waves" by the general public, and as "seismic sea waves" by the scientific community. The term "tidal wave" is a misnomer; although a tsunami's impact upon a coastline is dependent upon the tidal level at the time a tsunami strikes, tsunamis are unrelated to the tides. Tides result from the imbalanced, extraterrestrial, gravitational influences of the moon, sun, and planets. The term "seismic sea wave" is also misleading. "Seismic" implies an earthquake-related generation mechanism, but a tsunami can also be caused by a non-seismic event, such as a landslide or meteorite impact.


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Post by Archived Reply » Sat Dec 18, 2004 11:41 pm

Okay... lets beat this topic to death.

There are many forces at work that effect the tides besides the moon and the sun. Atmospheric pressure,seismic activity and planetary alignment also have influence on tides. The Bay of Fundy has large waves that entre the Bay . Chicago on Lake Michigan experienced a large "Tidal Wave" causing deaths due to atmospheric pressure. Tide prediction is not an exact science because there are so many variables that effect the tides. A "Tidal Wave" is the same as a "Tsunami". What do the Japanese call a tidal wave?..Big "fookee" wave?
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