• tsunami •
Pronunciation: su-nah-mee • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: A "tidal" wave, a gigantic seismic wave caused by a cataclysmic impact on the ocean, such as a landslide, meteorite, earthquake, or volcano. The impact emits enormous vibrations just beneath the ocean surface that create waves 40 feet high or higher when they collide with land.
Notes: Tsunami is today's word, but not at all a good one. It is a word that means widespread pain and suffering. Major tsunamis hit countries like Japan, Indonesia, Nicaragua, and Peru in the 1990s. The actual size of a tsunami is relative to the impact that causes it. In 1958 a landslide of about 40 million cubic yards of rock and earth set off a megatsunami 1720 feet high in remote Lituya Bay, Alaska. Anything like or related to a tsunami is tsunamic, which implies an adverb, tsunamically.
In Play: We have, unfortunately, seen and heard this word in play too much. In 2004 tsunamis from a submarine earthquake off the coast of Sumatra pounded hundreds of beaches throughout Southeast Asia and as far west as India. In 2011 a tsunami hit Japan 231 miles north of Tokyo killing 15,884 people.
Word History: Today's word comes directly from a Japanese compound noun made up of tsu "port, harbor" + nami "wave". These "harbor waves" have been confused with tidal waves in the past. They have nothing to do with tides or harbors, however, but are caused by enormous impacts on the ocean as described above.