It’s a Tsunami!

No, actually, it’s not.

Not even a little.

The Curmudgeon remembers learning the word “tsunami” in fourth grade and thinking “Hey, that’s a pretty cool word.” Everyone else in the class seemed to think so, too. After all, we didn’t know any other words that began with the letters t-s.

One letter - two sounds! Yes, those Hebrews are economical.

One letter – two sounds! Yes, those Hebrews are economical.

While The Curmudgeon definitely thought the word was cool, he may have been a little less impressed with a word beginning with t-s than some of his classmates. After all, fourth grade was also his first year attending Hebrew school, and he had recently learned that the “t-s” sound is so common in Hebrew that it has its own letter combining both sounds: the tzadik.

Tsunami remains a pretty cool word – although a word that apparently has so much appeal that a lot of writers cannot resist the temptation to use and overuse.

Some examples, starting with this one from the New York Times:

The A.C.O. may strike some critics as a worrying repackaging of the H.M.O. in its earliest incarnations, but there is little doubt that more Americans will be enrolled in these provider groups in the coming years. “A.C.O.’s are coming, and it will change the way we pay for health care,” said Dr. Michael Cryer, national medical director for the employee benefits consultancy Aon Hewitt. “Providers are doing things in a positive way rather than a reactive way. We are seeing the beginnings of a tsunami.”

An article about Stanford University president John Hennessey and the emergence of distance and online learning noted that

… Hennessy’s digital experience alerts him to danger. He says, “There’s a tsunami coming.”

And a member of Philadelphia’s city council, describing the financial troubles facing the city’s school system, declared

I could really kick myself. We saw the tsunami coming.

And then there was an article in the left-wing rag The American Prospect about political contributions and the impact of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.

American politics is in trouble. A tsunami of unaccountable, untraceable political money is overwhelming the Republican race for the presidential nomination and threatens to do the same to the fall election.

 Bloomberg News apparently agrees, titling an article

Obama Money Edge Competes With Republican Cash ‘Tsunami’

Well, at least the Bloomberg folks put “tsunami” in quotation marks, perhaps as an acknowledgment that they know better but decided to go ahead and use it anyway because, well, tsunami is such a cool-sounding word.

The UPI news service published a commentary on the economy and had the bad taste to title it “Outside View: The mother of all (fiscal) tsunamis” – an idea some editor probably got because the commentary did more than use the word: it used the entire concept.

Imagine you are aboard a palatial huge cruise ship — longer than three football fields and more than 100,000 tons in displacement. You are in the Atlantic. You receive an urgent text message. A giant tidal wave is headed in your direction and will hit the ship in about 2 hours. A satellite photo of the wave is attached to the warning.

You race to the bridge to see the captain. You are politely told that you shouldn’t worry. Everything is under control. An hour and a half later, the wave hits creating an even greater Titanic-like catastrophe. This time, there are no survivors.

The United States is currently on course to collide with an unprecedented fiscal tsunami that will strike the end of this year. We all know the components of this giant wave: the expiration of Bush-era tax cuts; sequestration; debt ceiling relief; payroll tax increases; “doc-fixes’ to healthcare; alternative minimum tax issues; and on and on. We all know that the chances that the current Congress, even during the “lame duck” session after the elections, of resolving all or any of these potential tidal wave issues are about zero.

Holy extended metaphor, Batman!

Even the ordinarily restrained British climbed aboard the tsunami bandwagon with a headline about the European Fund and Asset Management Association that claimed ‘Regulation tsunami’ could see investors sidelined, warns EFAMA,” and another that warned “British PM faces “tsunami” of recession, Murdoch.“ (The Curmudgeon has no idea what this latter quote means, but then, that’s probably because he doesn’t speak the same language as the British.)

While doing some professional reading, The Curmudgeon came across an article about South Carolina’s aging population and some of the challenges that aging could pose for state officials. The article’s unfortunate title, though, was

South Carolina must prepare for ‘gray tsunami,’ official warns.

Like most states, Pennsylvania faces a looming financial crisis that will be caused by the enormous financial obligations it will incur paying the pensions it promised to state employees and public school teachers. State officials there like to talk about doing something about the crisis – and then not do anything about the crisis. One of those talkers/non-doers is the Republican senate majority leader, who in a Philadelphia Inquirer article described those pension obligations as a “tsunami that has already reached land.”

Here’s hoping he gets as carried away by the tsunami as he gets carried away by his own hyperbole.

A Tampa Bay Times headline screamed

Florida facing a ‘nursing shortage tsunami’ due to increased population, more insured patients.”

Considering how often Florida gets swamped with hurricane-driven winds and waters, you’d think a distinguished newspaper like the Times might be more sensitive about using that word.

If so, you’d think wrong.

With tourists now welcome in Cuba, there’s a problem: Cuba hasn’t had much of a tourism industry in more than 50 years and is ill-equipped to handle visits from Americans who expect a certain level of comfort when they travel. What will the impact on Cuba be? A University of Havana professor speculated:

It will be a tsunami. It’s not going to be easy to harness this.

And last but not least, when Philadelphia football fans booed their team – hardly an unusual occurrence – a Philadelphia magazine writer observed that

These weren’t your garden-variety ‘We’re not happy’ boos. This was a deafening, guttural roar. A seismic display of frustration. A tsunami of ‘you suck.’

No, it’s just a word overused to the point of worthlessness. We’ve seen what a real tsunami can do – and if you haven’t, take a look here and here – and it’s sort of like comparing anyone to Hitler: it’s so ridiculous that it loses its meaning.

It’s a veritable tsunami of meaningless overstatement.




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  • By Oh, Those Texans! | The Four-Eyed Curmudgeon on March 3, 2017 at 6:02 am

    […] “El Nino” and “La Nina;” and the word “tsunami” is in very common use in the U.S., and not just to describe weather, either, and it’s Japanese in […]

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