Tsunami vs tidal wave

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Though the words tsunami and tidal wave are used interchangeably, they actually refer to two different ocean phenomena. We will examine the definitions of the words tsunami and tidal wave, where they came from and some examples of their use in sentences.

A tsunami is an enormous wave that is caused by a catastrophic event, such as an earthquake, volcanic eruption or landslide. A tsunami happens when the sea floor is rapidly displaced, uplifting a column of ocean water, which forms an enormous surface wave. A tsunami usually travels at around five hundred miles per hour and may cover great distances. The word tsunami is a borrowed or loan word from the Japanese, and means harbor wave. A borrowed or loan word is one that is taken from another language and used as an English word. Tsunami is sometimes used figuratively to mean an overwhelming situation or emotion.

A tidal wave is a reoccurring, predicatable event influenced by the gravitation of the sun and moon, following the currents of the ocean. While a tsunami is a natural disaster, a tidal wave is a fluctuating, but everyday event. The term tidal wave is sometimes used to mean a tsunami, but this is an incorrect use of the word. Tidal is derived from the Old English word tid meaning a fixed time, and the suffix –al which is used to make a noun into an adjective. The word wave is derived from the Old English word wagian meaning to move to and fro. Tidal wave is often used figuratively to mean an overwhelming situation or emotion.


The earlier Kodiak Island quake triggered a tsunami warning for parts of Alaska and Canada and a tsunami watch for all the Hawaiin Islands and the entire US west coast. (The Daily Express)

Kenny Chesney’s 2003 hit “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems” helped usher in a tidal wave of laid-back, beachy anthems in the country marketplace — so much so that its songwriter, Casey Beathard, jokingly wonders if other artists owe him royalties. (The Tennessean)