So, has "tidal wave" gone the way of "brontosaurus" (literally & lexicographically)?

On the news it’s “tsunami” this, and “tsunami” that.

When I was a kid and you needed a make-believe life threatening disaster to advance the plot of backyard playtime you invoked a good-old, red blooded, American “tidal wave.”

But nobody says “tidal wave” anymore. Now don’t get me wrong; I’ve got nothing against tsunamis. I just want to know if there is something wrong with the term “tidal wave” to describe what happened in the Indian Ocean. Or is “tsunami” just the international fad term of the moment?

Extra credit: Has the term “cyclone” been relegated to the trash heap too, leaving youngsters to scratch their heads over the names of the fences and roller coaster?

Visit the Bay of Fundy and you’ll see real tidal waves. What people used to call tidal waves aren’t called that any more because they aren’t tidal waves.

The term “tidal wave” is no longer used because the wave generated by an undersea earthquake has nothing to do with tides. “Tsunami” is not a fad term; it has a long history of usage for this type of event, and so has been adopted outside Japan accordingly. Another correct term would be “seismic sea wave.”

I’m not certain why you think the term “cyclone” has been trashed, since it certainly still is used by meteorologists. What terms do you feel it has been replaced by?

“Tidal wave” has been trashed in the interests of “accuracy.”

Of course, “tidal wave” was a perfectly accurate term, describing a wave caused by an earthquake. However, some people just can’t understand how a phrase may not have the same meaning as separate definitions of the words that make it up.

“Tsunami,” by the way, is no more “accurate” a description than “tidal wave.” “Tsunami” comes comes from two japanese words meaning “harbor” and “wave.” Obviously tsunamis do not originate in harbors, and strike in areas other than harbors. So “tsinami” is just an arbitrary word chosen to describe the phenomenon – just like “tidal wave” is an arbritary phrase used to describe the phenomenon. They are both only “accurate” because people agreed to use them in that sense.

I thought they were tsunamis in the Pacific (and outlying) and tidal waves in the Atlantic (and outlying).

Which makes no objective sense, but human affairs rarely do.

Then what do you call what you get in the Bay of Fundy (and I’m sure many other places - that’s just one place I’m familiar with)?

The Severn Bore is another true tidal wave - there’s photos and videos on that site.

Are you confusing it with hurricanes/typhoons?

Not totally. It’s used instead of “hurricane” to describe big storms in the Indian Ocean.

Part of the reason Tsunamis are so deadly is because of their shape. A tsunami travels very quickly, with a very long wavelength and small amplitude. However, when the water gets shallow, the leading edge of the wave loses velocity, forcing the back part of the wave to build up to a great height. Hence, you don’t usually see a tsunami at all until it enters an area of comparatively shallow water… such as a harbor.

Cyclone is still in use, but it is currently more frequently used to identify storms off the coasts of Southeast Asia while (in the U.S.) tornado has become the more common word for twisters. The latter is probably a simple matter of one dialectal use in the U.S. making it onto the national news and edging out other regional words.

Something similar on a world scale occurs between cyclone and hurricane, with the Caribbean huracán being sufficiently entrenched in the American language to resist the importation of the British cyclone to describe the same types of activity. (Note the number of former British possessions around Southeast Asia where cyclone is more commonly used.) (On the other hand, I am not sure where typhoon currently stands regarding common usage: do the meteorologists stick with cyclone while typhoon and cyclone battle it out for ascendancy in different regions? Do different regions in SE Asia use cyclone or typhoon more frequently?)

“Tidal waves” were never caused by- or thought to be caused by- tides. It’s an old term- coming from the idea that such waves only happen in tidal areas. Which is correct- such a wave in the middle of the ocean is often just a big hump. Thus, Tidal wave" is a perfectly valid- although old fashioned- term. “Tsunami” is actually even more old fashioned & “inaccurate”- it means “harbor wave”- such waves are not limited to harbors. And if the dudes that thought “tidal wave is wrong becuase such waves are not caused by tides” - do they then think that “tsunami” is Ok because such waves are caused by harbors???

“Seismic sea wave” is likely the best term, but sometimes Tidal waves are also caused by large avalanches of rock/dirt/snow into (or under) the water.
RealityChuck ‘s post is correct, except that I think "tidal wave’ has really been junked in the interest of sounding (psuedo)-intellectual- “never use a perfectly good English term/word if there is a foriegn word we can use instead.” :rolleyes: :dubious:

The tern for the water movement in the Bay of Fundy (etc) is “Tidal bore”. They are not “tidal waves”. Yes, they are caused by tides, yes, they are waves- no they are not then “tidal waves”. The term is “tidal bore”.

Meteorologically, a cyclone is a circularly-rotating area of low atmospheric pressure, air spiralling inwards towards the low, as opposed to an anticyclone, which is a high-pressure area with air spiralling outwards. The L’s and H’s of your friendly TV meteorologist’s maps indicate the approximate location of cyclones and anticyclones respectively. They are, of course, not necessarily major storm systems in the way that hurricanes are.

In Aussie and Kiwi usage, and perhaps in other Indian and Southwest Pacific Ocean usages, a cyclone is a cyclonic system (in the meteorological sense that has increased in intensity to gale or hurricane force. In the Midwest, but growing obsolescent, “cyclone” is synonymous with tornado, which is of course a concentrated localized cyclonic vortex.

A pet peeve of mine is the use of the word “tsunami” for non-seismic sea waves. For instance, waves caused by landslides or meteors. There are also large “waves” caused by flash floods and burst dams/glaciers, but I’ve haven’t seen “tsunami” used to describe those, despite the similarities.

The English language needs a word for “dangerous, suddenly-appearing large volume of water”. Any suggestions?

Reality Chuck and DrDeth -

No one is using the term tsunami because they wish to be fashionable or use a foreign word instead of an English one.

We geologists will stop using a term if it becomes clear that they aren’t an accurate description, in it IS clear that undersea-earthquake-induced waves are NOT created by any sort of tidal mechanism. In this case, tsunami was adopted because the Japanese have had a term, used for hundreds of years, to describe large, abnormal waves that follow earthquakes. The literal translation is “harbor wave,” true, but that is principally because the Japanese of several hundred years ago would of course witness such waves best in their own harbors. We can be a little flexible here and adopt a term knowing what it is intended to describe, and what it has been used exclusively to describe. The term “tidal wave” clearly carries with it some confusion as to whether the speaker is referring to a special event or something more commonplace (and, in fact, tidally related) such as the tidal bore at the Bay of Fundy.

Geologists in general are cautious about the terms used to describe places and phenomena, because the goal is to avoid as much confusion as possible. Where there is a logical precedent for using a particular term, it will be used in favor of a newer and/or incorrect term. That is the reasoning behind abandoning “Brontosaurus” in favor of “Apatosaurus.” (Apatosaurus was described first, and it was only realized after the fact that the fossil named “Brontosaurus” was in fact an Apatosaurus). It is the reasoning behind the move to adopt tsunami in favor of tidal wave.

And please note, tsunami is used globally and recognized globally by scientists as a correct term (other than seismic sea wave) for this type of phenomenon. Do you think non-English speaking scientists are being trendy by dropping “tidal wave” in favor of tsunami?

I have seen the word tsunami used in discussions of meteor strikes and landslides in an effort to impart a sense of scale. A scientist would describe such phenomena as a “bolide-induced tsunami” or a “landslide-induced tsunami,” to differentiate it from the seismic sea-wave. Not etymologically satisfactory for you, perhaps, but the description is clear. Lay people likely would not label it further, and there there would be potential for confusion.

The term used among geologists for the sudden flood caused by rapid glacier melting is jokelhaup, an Icelandic word, since the phenomenon was first described there hundreds of years ago (and witnessed there again recently a few years back). I suppose you would object to that term as well?

The English language doesn’t need a separate term if a foreign term has precedence and applies exclusively to that phenomenon.

From this page in NOAA’s Hurricane Research Division FAQ:

The terms “hurricane” and “typhoon” are regionally specific names for a strong “tropical cyclone”. A tropical cyclone is the generic term for a non-frontal synoptic scale low-pressure system over tropical or sub-tropical waters with organized convection (i.e. thunderstorm activity) and definite cyclonic surface wind circulation (Holland 1993).
…[ul][li]“hurricane” (the North Atlantic Ocean, the Northeast Pacific Ocean east of the dateline, or the South Pacific Ocean east of 160E) [/li][li]“typhoon” (the Northwest Pacific Ocean west of the dateline) [/li][li]“severe tropical cyclone” (the Southwest Pacific Ocean west of 160E or Southeast Indian Ocean east of 90E) [/li][li]“severe cyclonic storm” (the North Indian Ocean) [/li][li]“tropical cyclone” (the Southwest Indian Ocean) [/ul](Neumann 1993)[/li][/QUOTE]

Hurricane is the standard term in British English.

Well, at least in “the North Atlantic Ocean, the Northeast Pacific Ocean east of the dateline, or the South Pacific Ocean east of 160E.”

Who ever said they were? I never did. No one who used the term ever did.

A tidal wave is the name for a wave created by an earthquake – always has. Why do you get the impression? Because you can’t understand that a term is not necessarily the sum of its components?

And what exactly was confusing about “tidal wave”? They were waves caused by an earthquake and nothing else. No one ever thought they had anything to do with tides.

As I pointed out, both “tidal wave” and “tsunami” are arbitrary terms attached to the same phenomenon. “Tsunami” is no more “accurate” than “tidal wave,” or “Splorge” or “potrezebie.” The meaning of the term is what the consensus agrees the term means. It’s like that with any word in any language.

Why should that matter? If you know what I mean when I say “brontosaurus” (and evidently, you do), how is the term incorrect?

I understand that – but the use is just as arbitrary – and just as “accurate” – as using “tidal wave” to describe the phenomenon.

If “tidal wave” were used globally and was recognized globally to describe it, wouldn’t that negate your argument that it is more “accurate”?