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When did "thunderstorm" replace "tempest" in common English usage?

I ask the question because my great-great grandmother, who lived in South Weymouth, Massachusetts, used the term frequently in her dairy of the year 1905.

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1978 –  Matt Эллен Jun 27 '13 at 10:37
    
Until 2003 –  Matt Эллен Jun 27 '13 at 10:45
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@MattЭллен Is this US usage? Going back to the 1950s, I've never heard a thunderstorm called a tempest in the UK. Also, I would associate 'tempest' with wind, not with thunder - as borne out here and here. –  TrevorD Jun 27 '13 at 11:55
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@MattЭллен If you take the 3 year boxcar smooth off the ngram plot, you'll see that thunderstorm usage briefly eclipsed use of tempest in 1944. Likely has something to do with fighting nazis. –  Wayfaring Stranger Jun 27 '13 at 14:13
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@TrevorD: No, it's not US usage. I'm a native US speaker born in the early 1980s, and the only times I can remember hearing the word tempest in everyday life are in the phrase tempest in a teapot and in reference to the Shakespeare play. In fact, I wonder if Shakespeare is skewing the ngram data? –  Nate Eldredge Jun 27 '13 at 16:07
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2 Answers

The OED dates the first use of "thunder-storm" to around 1656, with the first cite for "thunderstorm" without the hyphen coming from Charles Darwin's 1839 Voyage of the Beagle. A Google Ngram shows usage of tempest undergoing a century-long downward slide before being eclipsed for good by thunderstorm in the late 1970s.

However, bear in mind that the word tempest is often (I would guess predominantly) used metaphorically in the modern era, whereas with thunderstorm the literal definition is pretty much all you get. The Tempest is also the title of a well-known Shakespeare play, which presumably inflates its usage quite a bit. So I would guess that the original use of tempest was probably supplanted by thunderstorm many decades before the 1970s.

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I ask the question because my great-great grandmother, who lived in South Weymouth, Massachusetts, used the term frequently in her dairy of the year 1905. –  David S. Heald Jun 27 '13 at 23:50
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One thing to note about a thunderstorm is that it specifically implies thunder - as the word is in the name itself. Whereas heavy wind and rain could be considered a tempest without thunder of any kind.

Though "tempest" is not very commonly used in casual conversation. "Storm" would be acceptable, and does not specifically denote the presence of thunder.

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