Friday, January 07, 2005


How and why is it that a Japanese term for a wave caused by an underwater earthquake became the standard term for this phenomenon in English? Have there never been any tsunamis in the Atlantic (perhaps the famed Atlantis was destroyed by one)? Didn't Europeans ever get around to coming up with a word for the phenomeon? Surely there are Hindi, Tamil, Javanese, or Thai terms for this phenomenon? Do the locals resent this linguistic imperialism of the economically powerful Japanese? Why and how is it that everyone seems to have decided on "the tsunami" as the best (and only) way to describe the disaster?

Erm... because it sounds cool? lists the follow synonyms for
eagre, giant sea swell, giant wave, rogue wave, seiche, seismic sea wave, surface wave, tidal bore, white horses

Looking up "eagre" leads to "aegir" which was the name of the Norse God of the Sea and shares the same meaning (giant sea waves). The meaning of "seiche" is limited to giant waves in land-locked bodies of water.

I think "tsunami" fits the best--while "white horses" is interesting, it sounds far too gentle.
the change from "tidal wave" to the Japanese version occurred during a period of time when Americans were learning to like Sushi (kim-bab) and Japanese corporate sponsorship...

and tsunami is just about as generic as "tidal wave" so I use them interchangeably, depending on how many "Il-bun-o-phobics" are in the room...
Er, well, you might have noticed that the Pacific Ocean covers an awful lot of the earth, and that whole "Ring of Fire" thing they have there, you know, the one responsible for all the volcanos and underground earthquakes, that's completely in the Pacific, too.

It sort of makes sense to have an Asian name for it. As for why the Japanese name is used, you may have noticed that Japan seems to get a lot of these tidal waves generated by these underground earthquakes.

Um, why do WE English speakers know about this? When we decided to use Asian words like "typhoon" to describe hurricanes in the Pacific and other Asian words to describe weather phenomena in the Pacific.

Why Japanese specifically? Because Japan is the country most open to cooperation with the West and its scientists.

The (not so anonmymous) Kkachi
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?