Dear journalists: it is not a ‘tidal wave’

I’m sure you’ve all seen the videos shot from helicopters of the massive tsunami that struck Japan. You’ve probably seen enough that you’ve wondered at the fate of countless individuals – the motorists driving as normal, oblivious to the wall of cars, boats and destroyed houses pushed towards them as if foam on the crest of a wave. It’s a sombre scene that requires careful, thoughtful but above all accurate reporting. So I’d like to politely request that journalists please refer to the wave as a ‘tsunami’ because that is what it is. It is not a ‘tidal wave’ because this event had nothing whatsoever to do with tides.

In particular can the Daily Mail please correct this:

There is just no excuse for such shoddy journalism.

6 thoughts on “Dear journalists: it is not a ‘tidal wave’

  1. I don’t really have a problem with this. No, it’s not scientifically correct, but the term is commonly understood to be a synonym for tsunami, and is rarely used in its true sense outside of specialised circles. The literal meaning of the word tsunami really isn’t any better as a description of the phenomenon.

    Besides, in terms of scientific inaccuracies journalists are guilty of, this is very much at the minor end.

  2. it would be nice if they would stop referring to the quake as being 8.4 on the Richter scale. That scale hasn’t been used since the 70s.

    The modern (correct) scale is the Moment Magnitude Scale, or just “magnitude”

  3. Love reading your blog, but I feel I have to make a point here – calling it a tidal wave is perfectly acceptable. The OED (second edition revised 2005) defines a tidal wave as “an exceptionally large ocean wave, especially one caused by an underwater earthquake or volcanic eruption.”
    A tsunami is defined as “a long high sea wave caused by an earthquake or other disturbance”
    The latter term was more usually used in Japan and the Pacific Basin, but the two terms are largely synonymous.

    (sorry if this is a double-post, but there was no indication that my first attempt had been saved)

  4. It’s all very well being pedantic about their knowledge of science, but surely it is shoddier of them not to inform us how it will affect house prices and pensions? (And also, do exploding nuclear reactors give you cancer?)

  5. To be fair, tsunamis have nothing to do with harbours eithier, which is what the “tsu” means in the Japanese word.

  6. Well said. I’ve read blinkered and xenophobic little-Englanders at Peter Hitchens’ blog oppose the use of the word tsunami simply because it’s ‘foreign’ lol. These are the same people who break out in a rash every time they hear an Americanism on the ‘Marxist’ BBC. One dopey right-winger complained about the BBC’s use of the American legal term ‘appeal the decision’, rather than the properly English ‘appeal *against* the decision’. What the idiot didn’t realize is that the term ‘appeal the decision‘, like many so-called ‘Americanisms‘, was used in merry olde England long before the States shuffled off Britain’s imperial coil.

    Hitchens himself castigates people for daring to refer to that jolly bearded fellow in the red coat as Santa Claus, an American term, rather than the properly English ‘Father Christmas’. Either way, before Christianity came along and hijacked Santa’s sleigh, ‘Father Christmas’ was a pagan figure, as were the Christmas and Easter festivals. But the trad-cons just ignore any history that is inconvenient to their prejudices.

    Just like the ‘English’ people themselves, much of their sacred and inviolable English language has been cobbled together from foreign sources. The English are a mongrel race, and their language a composite of words and phrases from other languages.

    However, there are some words (and concepts) that will forever remain alien to little-Englander traditional conservatives… words like compassion, tolerance, humanity and reality.

    And speaking of Hitchens and tsunamis, the heartless and simplistic fool has this to say in his latest MoS rant, “The panic-mongering coverage of the Japanese nuclear power station’s troubles has been little short of moronic. The threat is elsewhere. The Energy Secretary, Chris Huhne, is far more dangerous to health and safety than the Fukushima reactors.”

    Very sensitively put, Mr Hitchens. It won’t be long before Hitchens starts to claim that those beastly wind turbines cause leukaemia.

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