Talk:tidal wave

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Note: conversation was moved to Category talk:English words affected by prescriptivism

tidal wave[edit]

Also, why is tidal wave technically incorrect? --Eean 18:56, 30 Dec 2004 (UTC)

<Jun-Dai 19:23, 30 Dec 2004 (UTC)>Because tsunamis have absolutely nothing to do with tides. A "tidal wave," insofar as it refers to anything, would refer to a wave that occurs as a result of a tide or a change in tide, and would thus be periodic.</Jun-Dai>
I've been reading this hyper-correct mumbo-jumbo all over the place lately. We're talking about English, not Lojban. Shall we start "correcting" all words which are not "technically" correct?
Saying it's not technically correct needs some backup. After all, modern dictionaries are supposed to be descriptive, not prescriptive.
  1. Who decided "tidal wave" is no longer to be used?
  2. When was this amendment "passed"?
  3. Where are some examples of "tidal wave" being used in its own technically correct seense? (I've definitely never heard it)
  4. Since "tsunami" means "harbour wave", why is that so much more logical?
  5. How long was "tidal wave" in use before the "Academie Anglaise" replaced it?
  6. Is the equally illogical Japanese language suffering under a decree to replace "harbour wave" with some foreign word since tsunami have absolutely nothing to do with harbours?
  7. Has the word "tide" always referred to lunar/solar gravitational effects?
    1. Surely English-speakers were talking about tides before the gravitational effects were understood.
    2. Did "tide" and "tidal" originally describe the fact of water rising and falling at the coastline?
    3. If the sense of "tide" and "tidal" did become more scientific, when did this occur apart from in the term "tidal wave"?
    4. Show that "tide" and "tidal" are now technical terms referring only to the origin of the change in coastal water level and not in the mere observation of the fact of the change in coastal water level.
Okay so it sounds a bit like I'm joking but if we want to be a serious dictionary we need some serious research. This all smacks of being a language maven issue to me.
I would also like to know when other languages have adopted the Japanese term, and whether they did it after the English model, or if they all decided harbours are more logically related to this phenomenon than tides are.
Hippietrail 23:22, 30 Dec 2004 (UTC)
<Jun-Dai 23:56, 30 Dec 2004 (UTC)>You raise some very good points, and this (along with all other wiktionary entries) could benefit from some good research. I've based my input on the fact that I have been told, since middle school, that "tidal wave" is not the correct term for extra-large waves caused by disturbances in the ocean. Additionally in recent years (beyond the last decade), tsunami is the term for that phenomenon in almost all scientific literature I've encountered and for the most part in journalism as well. I've been corrected for using tidal wave and I've seen others corrected for it. Therefore, if my experience is the norm, then it would be misleading for the wiktionary not to contain some note to this effect in our listing of tidal wave and of tidal wave as a synonym of tsunami. I think it is important for dictionaries to maintain both descriptive and prescriptive interests, but in this case it would serve both interests to note that tsunami is generally preferred over tidal wave, at least if we can agree on that point.
Research would be welcome, here as elsewhere, but in its absence I hold that as far as I have seen, tsunami is preferred over tidal wave
More on the topic: http://www.stltoday.com/stltoday/news/stories.nsf/nation/story/46B2848112360E1C86256F79001B5149?OpenDocument&Headline=You+say+%22tsunami%22+and+I+say+%22tidal+wave%22
Additionally, in the realm of speculation, I think that people have a harder time accepting etymologies of erroneous association in the English language when the roots are clear and can provide a misleading understanding of the concept. Tsunami, regardless of its etymology in Japanese, is not likely to confuse English speakers with regard to its meaning.</Jun-Dai>

There is a thread on this topic over at languagehat. Here is a version of a comment I just posted there:

As an example of exactly what I'm talking about, http://www.etymonline.com states in its entry for "tidal":
1807, a hybrid formation from tide (q.v.) + Latin-derived suffix -al. A tidal wave (1830) is properly high water caused by movements of the tides; erroneous use for "tsunami, great ocean wave caused by an earthquake, etc." is recorded from 1878.
for "tsunami":
1904, from Japanese tsunami, from tsu "harbor" + nami "wave."
Wow - us silly English speakers were being erroneous for a whole 26 years before we even had a non-erroneous word in our lexicon! How embarassing for us.
I wonder how many more years before "tusnami" was in wide use?
From the same source, "tide" is ancient but in reference to ebb & flow it dates back to 1340. I haven't pinned down a date for the gravity/tide discovery yet...
Hippietrail 01:27, 31 Dec 2004 (UTC)
In case this isn't common knowledge, tide is cognate with German Zeit and Dutch tijd, both meaning "time", and I would strongly suspect, with tidings. I would expect that the English sense of tides of the sea is a metaphoric extension and the "time" sense is central. -dmh 05:12, 4 Jan 2005 (UTC)
Yes it is related to tidings. Yule tide provides a surviving link between the Germanic and English terms and usages. It seems that the original sense behind "tide" pertained to them being cyclical or predictably repeating to some degree. Gravity probably came after that. This wouldn't make the disaster sense of tidal wave any more logical but would affect the argument saying "tidal wave" is wrong because "tide" refers to the effects of the sun and moon's gravity on the seas. — Hippietrail 04:57, 5 Jan 2005 (UTC)

Experts[edit]

Well, this academic discussion is all well and good I suppose. The accepted way to handle such situations are to address what "experts" perceive as being correct, as it is currently. However, I've never heard of anyone using definition (1). Does anyone have a source for this? Or was this just someone's idea of what 'tidal wave' should mean? I mean, if I was at a beach I don't see how it would be possible to say "oh, what nice tidal waves today" without sounding wrong. --user:eean 04:54, 3 Jan 2005 (UTC)

<Jun-Dai 08:23, 3 Jan 2005 (UTC)>Well for starters, there's American Heritage. You can actually find a nice usage of it a third of the way down the wikipedia entry for Wikipedia:Tide. Generally it seems like the term has been overwhelmed by the second sense, but it may be that amongst people that talk about tides professionally, the term has some use in the first sense. You can also find a nice distinction between tidal wave and tsunami at http://drake.marin.k12.ca.us/stuwork/rockwater/wavetide/tides.html</Jun-Dai>
Asking the experts opinion for the current term would be the right approach for a blog on general issuses. However, we are a serious dictionary and as such we need to cover the history of the terms and shades of meaning. So the fact the today's experts all agree on "tsunami" and the media is now using it isn't enough. We also need to say if the two terms have been interchangable in the past, and it seems they were, even very very recently. — Hippietrail 10:11, 3 Jan 2005 (UTC)
Though apparently no one told MSNBC, if you look at the quotation page. --Eean 06:05, 4 Jan 2005 (UTC)

I like the edited version of the usage note better. -dmh 05:15, 4 Jan 2005 (UTC)

On senses[edit]

There seem to be several blurred concepts which are referred to by tidal wave / tsunami:

  1. Wave caused by tides.
    1. Such a wave coming in to the shore.
    2. The bulge in the ocean at the zone under most gravitational pull by the moon & sun.
  2. A disaster resulting in coastal devastation from inundation from the ocean.
    1. Such a disaster caused by an undersea earthquake.
    2. Such a disaster caused by whatever event.
  3. A "giant ocean wave" which people discussing the words talk about but which scientific articles state do not occur. The waves are tiny in the ocean but become giant on reaching the coast.
  4. A giant wave which hits the coast. Note that in the recent disaster there were many waves. What is each wave called? Technically? Popularly?

Hippietrail 15:23, 6 Jan 2005 (UTC)

First, I'm becoming more convinced that the preference for tsunami may be at least partially limited to the recent Indian ocean disaster. The term tsunami provides a recognizable, memorable and reasonably distinct label for the particular event. I suspect also that American and British speakers may also subconciously prefer tsunami as it's an Asian (albeit Japanese) word and the disaster is also Asian (albeit not Japanese). It would be interesting to see whether American and Australian/New Zealand media differ in their preference for tsunami or tidal wave. I would expect the antipodes to be better aware that Japan was far from the action and thus perhaps not be influenced by this factor.
As to senses, I doubt that tidal wave would be used to describe a tidal bulge coming to shore. I believe that's just called the tides. Also, I would think that from a non-scientific point of view, "giant ocean wave" would mean "giant wave from the ocean," not "giant wave in the ocean." Sailors in the Southern Ocean often encounter huge waves, but don't call them "tidal waves". To an oceanographer, tsunami/tidal wave may refer to the entire disturbance in the ocean, even though it creates little if any visible effect until it reaches shore. The layman on the beach just sees a giant wave, and may or may not imagine the same wave traveling across the ocean at full height. Surfers, at least, would probably know better.
I also think that tsunami in popular usage implies a seismic cause. I'm not sure what it may mean scientifically. Hmm . . . let's find out. Here's a typical page on "what is a tsunami". It defines a tsunami as a series of waves with a long wavelength and period (time between crests). and states that Tsunamis are generated by any large, impulsive displacement of the sea level. and that Earthquakes generate tsunamis by vertical movement of the sea floor. and that Tsunamis are also triggered by landslides into or under the water surface, and can be generated by volcanic activity and meteorite impacts. This is from the NOAA West Coast & Alaska Tsunami Warning Center.
The site further states that Tsunamis range in size from inches to over a hundred feet, that Tsunamis are often incorrectly called tidal waves; they have no relation to the daily ocean tides. but also that Normally, a tsunami appears as a rapidly advancing or receding tide. and finally that tsunamis act differently from wind-generated waves in that they have longer wavelengths and that Wind-generated waves break as they shoal and lose energy offshore. Tsunamis act more like a flooding wave. A twenty foot tsunami is a twenty foot rise in sea level.
This all accords with what I've heard elsewhere, both recently and in the dim past, about the technical meaning of tsunami, and I'm sure that other scientific organizations echo most if not all of this.
So the senses I see for tsunami are:
  • The scientific sense of long wavelength ocean wave of whatever origin
  • The popular sense of a large, destrutive wave from the ocean
  • The narrower popular sense of a large, destrutive wave from the ocean, triggered by an underwater earthquake or landslide (a hypercorrect usage)
  • The metonymic extension of a natural disaster brought on by a tsunami
and the senses for tidal wave would be
  • The technical sense of a tidal crest, in the ocean (and not its arrival on shore). Technically, this would probably not also be a tsunami (long wavelength ocean wave), as it is a single crest and would not have a well-defined wavelength, but we should research that.
  • The popular sense of a large, destructive wave from the ocean
  • Perhaps a similar sense of a large destructive wave from the ocean that looks like a rapid tide.
  • Perhaps a refined popular sense of a large destructive wave from the ocean caused by an undersea earthquake or landslide.
  • The metonymic extension of a natural disaster brought on by such a wave
  • The usual metaphor as in tidal wave of emotion.
We would have to find attestation for the two perhaps items above, but I would expect that they are there to be found. -dmh 17:49, 6 Jan 2005 (UTC)


<Jun-Dai 18:40, 6 Jan 2005 (UTC)>I don't think that people ever refer to the disaster brought about by a tsunami as a tsunami. In that case they refer to it as a disaster brought about by a tsunami or a tsunami crisis or something similar. Can you find any examples to support that sense of the word? Also, why is the narrower sense of tsunami hypercorrect? I think it merely stems from the fact that we've come to understand that the only things that can generally cause tsunamis are earthquakes, landslides, volcanic activity, meteors, and really small ones (the kind that can knock down a beach house instead of wiping out small towns or more) can be cause by hurricanes.</Jun-Dai>

  1. We refer to "tsunami relief" synonymously with "tsunami disaster relief". We refer to people killed by the tsunami even if they survived the actual wave but later died of other causes. The news reports I've been scanning are often careful to say "tsunami disaster", but this sort of extension to the looser sense of "the wave and its aftereffects" is entirely ordinary.
  2. It will be tricky to track down attestation, but there is pretty clearly a notion that the prototypical tsunami is caused by an earthquake or landslide, even though the working definition used by NOAA, USGS et. al. specifically don't observe that limitation. The smoking gun would be someone claiming that, say, a wave caused by a meteor would not be a tsunami. On the other hand, I'm pretty sure that hurricane-driven waves and surges are not considered tsunamis in the technical community. -dmh 19:18, 6 Jan 2005 (UTC)
<Jun-Dai 20:11, 6 Jan 2005 (UTC)> (1) I will happily concede this point. Though I would like to clarify that we certainly can't get away with using tsunami to mean tsunami disaster in all cases--only in cases where it works as effective shorthand. It would be odd to say that people seeking refuge from a natural disaster brought about by a tsunami are seeking refuge from a tsunami.
(2) I would be amazed to find a statement to the effect that waves from a meteor in the ocean (or a volcano) do not qualify as tsunamis. I believe that the definition of a tsunami as being caused by earthquakes or landslides is only because the people defining it didn't think to include meteors.
As for hurricane-based waves, I believe that the technical distinction between those and earthquake-based tsunamis is jargon. It is similar with velocity. To physicists a car that is driving 60mph, but then turns has changed velocity, even if it is going 60mph. Outside of the realm of physics jargon, it has not. People who study waves see the need to make the distinction, because there is a tremendous technical difference (I suppose--I don't actually know anything about it) between the two types of waves; but the need to make that distinction is limited to that field of study. </Jun-Dai>

Fluctuation of contentiousness[edit]

<Jun-Dai 00:56, 7 Jan 2005 (UTC)>I know this might seem a bit silly at the moment, but it might not be worth putting a lot of effort into defining the debate around this term right now (other than entertainment value, of course). This term, along with tsunami have not seen all that much use until about two weeks ago, and the sudden change in the public usage and awareness of both terms will probably have quite an effect on how the terms are viewed in the future. As a result, people working on this definition a year from now will be much more qualified to write about the debate on the "correctness" and "acceptibility" of the term.

In what ways is the debate being altered? Well, there's the fact that the term tsunami is probably now universally known in the U.S. where it was not before. There's the fact that probably all over the place in newsrooms and editing meetings, people are arguing about whether tidal wave is incorrect, or whether people know what a tsunami is, or which term should be used in their headlines, and which term should be dominant in their writing etc. At the moment, it seems like tsunami is winning the fight for dominance in the mass media, which may be the first time in the English language that that has happened, and it will doubtlessly have an effect on people's usage of it in blogs, novels, etc. We are also seeing an increased usage of tsunami as a metaphor, which may become mainstream at some point. On the other hand, it could be that all of the media people have decided that tidal wave is in fact fine, and that people were just sort of assuming that it is the wrong word. All of these things are being worked out, and as a result, you can be sure that whatever we write now is sure to be inaccurate in a year (in what way, I cannot say).</Jun-Dai>

defining the term[edit]

<Jun-Dai 19:25, 11 Jan 2005 (UTC)>Let's reserve this section for defending our edits to the Tidal wave page

  1. I broke out tidal wave as in "crest of water" (Slocum's usage) from the "tsunami" sense, since he is making a clear reference to "ordinary" tidal waves that occur because of the moon. I labelled this usage as archaic, because I haven't seen any recent references to it (we can drop that if anyone can find a recent quotation), and it's hard to imagine using it now without confusing someone.
  2. I broke out the sense of tidal wave as in tsunami, because it really is distinct from tidal wave in the sense of a large and sudden rise and/or fall in the tide. Perhaps this is wronge (because I can't really think of a use of the latter as opposed to the former), in which case I advocate supplanting the definition with the subdefinition.
  3. I listed the use of tsunami as being often considered incorrect. I don't think this point is really disputed, but because the issue is much more complicated, I included a reference to the usage note just below.
  4. I took a stab at the usage note, which needs expansion and revision. People should come away from this with a clear expectation of (a) what to expect when using this term or tsunami and (b) what the history behind the relationship between these two terms are. I've based what I've written on dmh's rough and preliminary research (by far the most thorough thing we have right now) and on my own totally unscientific observations. Essentially this is a placeholder for a fuller explanation of the usage of tidal wave and its connotations, to be filled out by further research and quotations. I've tried to plant seeds for points of departure for research into the matter.

</Jun-Dai>

The reason people correct tidal wave to tsunami[edit]

From the article:

While there is nothing that is strictly speaking ‘incorrect’ with regard to this usage of tidal wave, many people believe that the term should simply not be linked with the term tide at all, to avoid the possibility of any confusion as to the cause of a tidal wave.

Is the "many people believe [...]" part really correct? Do people seriously believe that if you call tsunami a tidal wave, then you or others think that it's caused by the Moon (or even less plausibly, the Sun), and that this won't happen with the term tsunami? I find this analysis of the reasons for correcting the term very hard to believe. Isn't the real reason just that many perceive "tidal wave" to be incorrect but not really confusing? -- Coffee2theorems 18:52, 12 May 2007 (UTC)

In the U.S., I have not encountered the notion that tidal wave might be related to tides, and I’ve never heard that tidal wave was in any way incorrect. This must be a Commonwealth phenomenon, or else something too recent for me to have heard of it. —Stephen 14:04, 13 May 2007 (UTC)

Discussion from Citations_talk:tidal wave[edit]

Whats the justifaction for making this a seperate page? It would seem to be againist policy. And I don't see any reason to not just have it in the definition itself. --Eean 19:25, 3 Jan 2005 (UTC)

<Jun-Dai 19:38, 3 Jan 2005 (UTC)>I made a comment on Wiktionary_talk:Quotations enumerating some reasons why I thought this would be a good idea. In the absence of a good reason not to (it's easy enough to undo), I thought I'd go ahead and implement it in a couple of places to show what it would look like.
Basically, I felt that it would encourage people to add quotations without fear of cluttering up the entry page (people certainly have not been very forthcoming with quotations), because I think a good supply of quotations are healthy for an entry, but would most likely not be met with pleasure on the main page (where I think example sentences are much more appropriate). Additionally it makes it friendlier to be a little bit more verbose with the context and the citation, both of which I think would be good things.
Beyond that, I'm secretly hoping that it will meet with some success so that I can suggest the idea of a Translations: subpage, because I think the translation tables tend to clutter the main entry, and people are generally being extremely concise with their translations, even though translations (barring cognates) really need explanations as well as a list of appropriate translations with their differences in tone/connotation explicated. But that's a little too forward-looking for now.
This seems like an interesting idea to me. IMHO, quotations are mostly background material, and need only be emphasized for rare or controversial terms. One of the advantages of hypermedia is that you don't have to put everything on one page. Going ahead and trying Quotations: this way seems like a legitimate example of "be bold". Let's try it for a while and see if a consensus emerges.
As to "tidal wave" itself, I believe that the literal definition (wave caused by tides) is legitimate, as suported by the quotes given, but the common definition seems to be "any large wave, including tsunamis". -dmh 21:21, 3 Jan 2005 (UTC)
Yes, I'm all for quotations, even for really obvious words. Like the OED. However I think they should be on the main page. Wiktionary should implement collapsible headers (it would all be the same page, but a person could unhide/hide a section by clicking on the header title), so people won't be shy about adding quotes. Having two pages just increases the difficulty to maintain the defintions IMO. --Eean 05:31, 4 Jan 2005 (UTC)
Ok, I added a bug report for the collapsible headers I was talking about. Also I replaced of the numbered definitions, definition numbers may change so its bad form to refer to them that way. --Eean 06:01, 4 Jan 2005 (UTC)
<Jun-Dai 06:04, 4 Jan 2005 (UTC)>I'm all in favor of collapsible headers (provided they are not javascript), but in their absense, I think it makes sense to have the quotations on a separate page. If collapsible headers are introduced to the project at some point, it shouldn't be too difficult to programmatically merge the quotations pages into the main pages, particularly if they are well-formed. With the existence of example sentences, quotations aren't really necessary as a primary definition resource; rather they are useful for people doing research, as well as to give a more thorough understanding of a word where the rest of the entry has failed. And, of course, without collapsible headers, people will be wary to add quotations to the main page. Even with collapsible headers, many people will probably just be overwhelmed by the complexity of the edit pages. I think a separate page for quotations and another one for translations would go a long way towards simplifying the appearance of the entries, and they could be integrated onto the definitions by means of a tab or something similar.</Jun-Dai>
Of course it would be Javascript, how else. They're already using JavaScript for the Table of Contents show/hide. As far as confusing the edit page, thats why you can edit subsections. I mean, even with quotations the pages wouldn't be that long compared to many Wikipedia articles. --Eean 20:15, 4 Jan 2005 (UTC)
<Jun-Dai 21:04, 4 Jan 2005 (UTC)>If you take an entry like , fill it out, and have an average of 4 quotations per definition, I think you'll find that we'll have exceeded most Wikipedia articles in scroll length if not content length. If you take a word like turn, fill that out, and add 2-10 quotations per sense of the word, you will have added tremendous bulk to the page that is only of interest (though of pretty significant interest) to a select number of people. A whole separate page, however, will offer a resource to people that are interested in it, without adding any clutter to people who are not (most, I would think).</Jun-Dai>

I believe Joshua Slocum is referring to a tidal wave driven by the wind, and not, or at least not exclusively, by the influence of the moon. Here's a bit more context:

Currents on this coast are greatly affected by the prevailing winds, and a tidal wave higher than that ordinarily produced by the moon is sent up the whole shore of Uruguay before a southwest gale, or lowered by a northeaster, as may happen. One of these waves having just receded before the northeast wind which brought [Slocum's sloop] the Spray in left the tide now at low ebb, with oyster-rocks laid bare for some distance along the shore.

It's not completely clear, but as far as I can tell he's saying that, thanks to the wind, the ocean level was lower than it would have been on a windless day at low tide. It's not clear whether the low water level was caused by the wind alone, or by the wind and moon together. In any case, it appears that tide itself refers to the level of the water, and tidal wave most likely to the ebbs and flows of this level, quite possibly regardless of their cause.

In any case, Slocum is clearly referring to a local phenomenon (an ebbing of the water at the short) and not to a macro-scale crest traveling the ocean. -dmh 20:09, 7 Jan 2005 (UTC)


<Jun-Dai 20:18, 7 Jan 2005 (UTC)> Yeah, in my comment in the history, I think I mentioned some trouble over the categorization. See, he's referring to a phenomenon that is beyond the power of tides, but he's also giving the strong implication that "normal" tidal waves are those produced by the moon. Basically, he's using it synonymously with wave, which is probably the original usage of the term that people probably enjoyed using when they came to recognize that waves and tides were related phenomena (pure speculation on my part). Thus he's not referring to "tidal waves" as being due to extra-tidal forces, but only the particular "tidal waves" that are affected by the winds. But I should have provided the larger context on the quotation page.</Jun-Dai>

I'm becoming more and more convinced, particularly after looking at older usages of tide, that tide refers to the ebb and flow of the ocean level at the shore, regardless of the cause. For example, a storm tide can occur at any time, regardless of the position of the moon, even in places in which the moon produces negligible tides. Thus tidal would mean "having to do with tides" in general, and not specifically to lunar tides. The much-derided use of tidal wave makes perfect sense in this context, as do the less-controversial storm tide, hurricane tide, tidal flood (to be abated regardless of its origins) etc.
It would be interesting to look at "Account of an irregular tide in the river of Forth.", published in 1750 (see here for more bibliographical detail). A truly irregular tide is an oxymoron in the "all tides are lunar" view.
The technical terms tidal force and tidal accelleration clearly have their origins in explaining the regular tides produced by the influence of the moon (and to a lesser extent by the sun), but are understood to refer to the effects of a gravitational gradient. Thus the tidal forces produced by a black hole can cause spaghettification. Tidal wave may well have started life as part of this cluster. As mentioned elsewhere, tt does not seem to occur before the early 1800's.
This is all well and good, but these are derived terms, however well-defined and scientifically blessed they may be. Again, claiming that the derived term tidal wave is incorrect because it does not accord with its siblings tidal force and tidal acceleration is specious.
Another point to make here is that tide and tsunami are local phenomena in their original senses. Tidal wave may or may not have been localized in its originally coined sense, but if not, it soon came to be used in such a sense. Even today, we see reports in the news media of "the tsunamis", referring to the tidal surges as experienced in separate locations. The identification of tidal wave and tsunami again makes more sense in this context. If the water is lapping up on your front porch, do you care if it was driven by the moon, an earthquake, the wind or whatever? It's only when studying the phenomena globally that the distinction becomes prominent.
Finally, one document I ran across, which decries tidal wave as "egregious" and even tsunami as "incorrect" prefers seismic sea wave, which we should probably define. On the other hand, the author of these pronouncements also seems to think that phenomena is singular ... -dmh 20:54, 7 Jan 2005 (UTC)

British National Corpus[edit]

I'm not sure what searching operations are available on this corpus but it makes sense to search for all possible forms, including "tidal waves", "tidal wave's"; "tidal-wave" (etc); and possibly even "tidalwave" (etc). Otherwise a few examples may have been missed. — Hippietrail 11:04, 24 Feb 2005 (UTC)

XKCD[edit]

XKCD 1010 on the phrase tidal wave.--Prosfilaes (talk) 01:17, 29 February 2012 (UTC)