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Steal someone's thunder

刊登日期: 2016.05.21
作者: Grace Tse  

What do you think of when you hear the word “thunder”? BOOM! BANG! This loud noise occurring during stormy weather can make us jump and feel scared. While a lot of us are afraid of thunderstorms, why does a person “steal someone’s thunder”?

Mary was very upset because Jack stole her thunder and told the teacher that he had done the project all by himself.

In the above example, it was not true that Jack had done the project all by himself. Actually Mary did most of it. However, Jack used Mary’s ideas for his own advantage or to take praise away from her. That is why the idiom “steal someone’s thunder”(搶了某人的成功機會;搶風頭)carries a negative meaning.

There is an interesting story about the origin of this idiom. Several centuries ago, theatres tried very hard to find a good method to produce a sound effect for thunder. Imagine you were working at an acting company about three hundred years ago, what method could you think of to imitate the sound of thunder?

In 1704, John Dennis, an unsuccessful playwright, invented a new method to create the sound effect for thunder. Unfortunately, when he used this method in his play for the first time, the play failed and was closed down. The next day the theatre staged the Shakespeare (莎士比亞)play “Macbeth” by another acting company. John Dennis went to watch the performance. When he saw that they were using his innovation to make stage thunder, he jumped up and shouted, “They will not let my play run, yet steal my thunder!”

Like many expressions, this quote from John Dennis has taken many years to become an idiom. The Oxford English Dictionary recorded that this idiom was first used in print in 1900.

With advanced technology nowadays, acting companies have easier ways to make the noise of thunder on the stage. For example, they may use a thunder machine or beat drums offstage. There is no need for the companies to steal each other’s thunder.


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