This blog provides commentary on interesting geological events occurring around the world in the context of my own work. This work is, broadly, geological fluid dynamics. The events that I highlight here are those that resonate with my professional life and ideas, and my goal is to interpret them in the context of ideas I've developed in my research. The blog does not represent any particular research agenda. It is written on a personal basis and does not seek to represent the University of Illinois, where I am a professor of geology and physics. Enjoy Geology in Motion! I would be glad to be alerted to geologic events of interest to post here! I hope that this blog can provide current event materials that will make geology come alive.

Banner image is by Ludie Cochrane..

Susan Kieffer can be contacted at s1kieffer at gmail.com

Saturday, March 26, 2011

History of the word "tsunami"

Woodblock print of Tsunami by Hokusai
The NPR staff has produced a very nice article summarizing the history of the word "tsunami" both in Japan and in the western world. Japanese officials have kept detailed records of tsunamis, the first dating to December 29, 684, in Nankaido.  It was related to an earthquake with estimated magnitude 8.4. (Records of the tsunamis in Japan are posted by NOAA here.) Our word tsunami originates from two words tsu+nami, meaning "harbor wave." Strictly, the word means a "tidal wave," driven by the alignment of the earth, sun and moon.

Here's a wiki about "tsunami etymology," including the word for it in a few other languages. A tsunami-like wave was described by the Greek historian Thucydides (426 B.C.), and by the Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus when he described the sequence of events that destroyed Alexandria in 365 A.D., but as far as I can tell they did not appropriate a special word for the phenomenon in either Greek or Latin. The word "tsunami" was brought into English use about 100 years ago when an earthquake on June 15, 1896 caused a tsunami to hit Sanriku, very near the site of the current devastation. There was a report in National Geographic of this event (erroneously) introducing the Japanese term in the context of an earthquake-generated, rather than a tidal, wave.  Tsunami is also both the singular and plural form of the word in Japanese, but in English we generally append the "s" to make it plural.

(I was talking to a stranger in the Chicago airport yesterday and he commented that he hadn't heard the term "tsunami" until the 2004 tsunami devastated Indonesia. I reflected that even newspapers, radio and TV had limited impact until this 2004 event, which occurred coincident with the emergence of the modern internet. It would be interesting to survey the west coast, east coast, and midsection of the U.S. to see what tsunami awareness has been over the past century. My guess is that the west coast inhabitants would have been the most aware because of their exposure to earthquakes and tsunamis in the Pacific Rim, and that the east coast would have some awareness, perhaps correlated with a widely publicized (and controversial) prediction in 2001 that the collapse of the flank of Cumbre Vieja volcano in the Canary Islands would generate a 50 meter high tsunami around the Atlantic basin.)

No comments: