A friend of mine IMed me this weekend, very excited about a minor earthquake. She used the word “temblor” and was very excited about that, too – how often do you get a chance to say “temblor”? She felt impressive and sciencey.

I have been hanging around with seismologists for some time now, and I don’t think I have ever heard anyone use the word “temblor” in either ordinary or technical speech. I have only ever seen it in news reports, where it seems to fulfill a need to (a) limit the number of times a single word is repeated in a short space, and/or (b) use short words in headlines to satisfy layout constraints.

Am I alone here?


  1. Rew wrote:

    Okay, I’m showing my geek here, but one of the very few places I’ve ever heard that word is on the name of a multiplayer map for Total Annihilation (it’s more sophisticated than it sounds)called “Temblorian Mist”, the area in question is misty and prone to small earthquakes.

  2. Eric Lund wrote:

    Temblor is one of two Spanish words that mean “earthquake” (the other is terremoto). I’m not a native Spanish speaker, so I don’t know what the distinction is between those two words.

    That said, I don’t see a good reason for using “temblor” in English. “Earthquake” does the job just as effectively, and in the same number of syllables.

  3. Chris Rowan wrote:

    Oh good, I thought it was just me who had missed the memo on this one.

    I wonder how it got started? Just a reflection of the changing demographics in the US perhaps?

  4. Kim wrote:

    I answered “Yes – other reason” because I’ve occasionally described a photo’s location as “from the Temblor Range.” But other than in the place name, nope.

  5. Kameron wrote:

    “Yes – other”

    When I was in Chile, people said temblor to mean small earthquakes (terremotos) or tremors. It means tremor in Spanish.

  6. Erik wrote:

    Other: The Calaveras Dam replacement is founded on the Temblor Sandstone so the word gets used quite a bit there.

  7. Erik wrote:

    You see it a lot in older engineering/seismology reports also.

  8. Silver Fox wrote:

    Interesting. I’ve seen it mostly in news reports. Don’t know how or when it got started.

  9. abb3w wrote:

    Yes, other; too much time spent perusing the dictionary as a child.

  10. Kerrick wrote:

    The first few times I saw this, some years ago, I thought there was an R missing.

  11. Miguel Vera wrote:

    Well, in spanish we use 3 different words, all 3 meaning almost the same:

    Sismo: I think the most appropriate “earthquake” word and most used by seismological agencies.

    Temblor: Most used by people, and referring to a not-so-strong earthquake.

    Terremoto: Most used by people again, referring to a strong to pretty strong earthquake.

    I’ve also heard the very rare “tremor” in spanish, and the favorite of tv reports “movimiento tel├║rico”.

    Boy, are those a lot of words to describe one single thing, heh.

  12. Anonymous wrote:

    Thanks for the rundown, Miguel!

    In English, a “telluric movement” sounds like something unpleasant better discussed by SB’s medical bloggers…

  13. chancelikely wrote:

    Anonymous: I’d say it sounds like something Orac would target on his Friday Dose of Woo.

  14. Matt Wedel wrote:

    This is like people in the media and movies using “twister” for tornado. I grew up in Tornado Alley, watched tornadoes on the ground, picked up pieces of a friend’s house after a tornado, etc., and I never once heard anyone who lives in the midwest use the term “twister”. I think that some people must think it sounds folksy and down-home, but reality is opposite of perception here. People who live around tornadoes are tornado junkies. When the F5 plowed through Oklahoma City in 1999, I was 20 miles away watching the mesocyclone from a lawn chair in the front yard.

    You’ll know this has hit the baroque phase when there is a major Hollywood movie called, “Temblor!”

  15. Pete Buchholz wrote:

    I hate the word. It always sounds like someone mispronouncing “trembler.” It’s not euphonious. Earthquake, quake, and tremor are perfectly sufficient.

    The overuse of the word in the media irks me as much as the consistent misuse of epicenter (as a synonym of focus or center).

  16. Maria Brumm wrote:

    Mistaking epicenter/hypocenter doesn’t actually bug me. Yeah, it’s a technical mistake, but I think it’s far more important for people to realize that a magnitude 8 earthquake is not a point source than to waste time/memory learning which point source is which.

  17. Pete Buchholz wrote:

    It’s not so much the use of epicenter as a synonym for hypocenter, but when epicenter is used outside of a geological context. Like, say, “Colombia is the epicenter of the cocaine trade.” Really? It’s on the surface, and not the center of the action?

  18. John.St wrote:

    I call it a sismo (in proper Castellano: Seismo) – “terremoto” is IFAIK only used by people who don’t experience them more than a couple of hundred times.

    Say “sismo” 50-60 times (each month).

    Then try “terremoto” for the same number of times, and you’ll understand.

    March 2009: http://ssn.dgf.uchile.cl/mapas/mensuales/guc\_eve04\_200903\_map.jpeg – updated each time you reload the page.

  19. Jorge wrote:

    Insiting in what Miguel said above, I would like to comment also that “temblor” is just a “shake”. It can be a seismic event, it can be what the body makes when it’s cold :-).


  20. Andrew wrote:

    I searched my site just now, and in the past 11 years I have used the word “temblor” just once, with a smirk: “EERI, the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute, has been out there stalking the wild temblor since 1949.” I am so proud.

  21. agm wrote:

    Taking it way back: the T-bomb (T for Temblor). A weapon that destroys the Kilrathi home planet, ending the threat to the Terran species. Bonus points for figuring out which game.

  22. Michael wrote:

    I fall under the “news report” category. I use it, but only because it’s a convention. As a former geologist, I never understood where it came from or why reporters used it. Now I use it to keep from having the word “earthquake” or just “quake” repeated a million times in every article I write. I also use “tremor,” “shudder,” and “shimmy” with some regularity.

    If I thought I could get away with “sismo,” I’d use it. Any other suggested synonyms would be gratefully received!

  23. Steve wrote:

    Weird so further to the above is the word “Temblor” used outside the US? I live in New Zealand and we have Earthquakes regularly – especially of note recently and I’d never heard the word in our media and only saw it for the first time in a US report on our quake here yesterday. I had to look it up! LOL

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