April 20, 2021

XKCD Web Comic #1010: Etymology-Man (described)

A webcomic of romance,
sarcasm, math, and language.

Panel One: A pair of stick figures are standing together, looking down and with their arms held out from their sides. Wavy lines on either side of each of them indicate movement. The figure on the right has a ponytail.

Person One: Earthquake!

Person Two: We should get to higher ground–there could be a tidal wave.

Panel Two: The same two figures are still standing in the same place. The first one has a hand raised in a lecturing manner.

Person One: You mean a tsunami. “Tidal wave” means a wave caused by tides.

Panel Three: The same two figures look up in astonishment as a caped stick figure flies from the left side of the  panel with a “crash.”

Caped Figure: You know, that doesn’t add up.

Persons One and Two: Etymology-Man!

Panel Four: Etymology-Man is standing on the ground and talking with the first two figures.

Etymology-Man: It’s been obvious for centuries that these waves come from quakes. So why “tidal”?

Panel Five: Close up of Etymology-Man, hand raised in lecturing mode.

Etymology-Man: Remember that until 2004, there weren’t any clear photos or videos of tsunamis. Some modern writers even described them rearing up and breaking like surfing waves.

Of course, in 2004 and 2011, it was made clear to everyone that a tsunami is more like a rapid, turbulent inrushing tide–exactly what historical accounts describe.

Panel Six: Same scene as Panel Four, except now a substantial amount of water has shown up in the lower left of the panel with a “sploosh.”

Etymology-Man: Maybe those writing about Lisbon in 1755 used “tidal wave” not out of scientific confusion, but because it described the wave’s form–a description lost in our rush to expunge “tidal wave” from English.

Panel Seven: Same scene as Panel Six, except now the water is up to their waists.

Etymology-Man: “Tsunami” is now the standard, and I’m trying to change that. But let’s be a tad less giddy about correcting “tidal wave”–especially when “tsunami” just means “harbor wave,” which is hardly…

Hover text: I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I wish Aquaman were here instead–HE’D be able to help.

Warning: This comic occasionally contains strong language (which may be unsuitable for children), unusual humor (which may be unsuitable for adults), and advanced mathematics (which may be unsuitable for liberal-arts majors).

Comic by xkcd.com. Described by BlindGadget under the Creative Commons license.

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