Tag Archives: Sound Effect

Stealing Thunder: Giving Credit Where it Isn’t Due

Now, here’s another installment of Bill’s Bologna:

We all know that stealing someone’s thunder means taking credit for something that isn’t yours or taking the spotlight away from someone, but  stealing someone’s spotlight is very different from the sound of air expanding very rapidly around a bolt of – never mind. So where did this phrase come from?

I just happen to have the answer:

In the early to mid 18th century a playright named John Dennis was becoming fairly prominent in the English theater scene. One of the plays he wrote needed something to simulate the sound of thunder, so Dennis went home & invented something that would do just that. It worked beautifully, but the play didn’t. It tanked, & the theater pulled it from its schedule. Unfortunately for Dennis, that also meant that nobody would get to witness his great new sound effect, or so he thought.

Some time went by, & while seeing a production of Macbeth in the same theater, Dennis heard a very familiar sound- one that sounded just like thunder. After he checked it out, he confirmed his fear that the theater had stolen his artificial thunder idea & let the production of Macbeth use it.  Dennis realized that because Shakespeare’s Macbeth is one of the most famous plays ever written, the theater would get all the credit for his invention. While seated during the play, he is reported to have leaned to the person next to him & said, “That is my thunder, by God; the villains will play my thunder, but not my play.”

Eventually, the story spread & the incident turned into the expression.

There you go. Now you know. You’re welcome.

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Filed under Etymology