To Steal Someone's Thunder (Origin)

What Is the Origin of the Saying "To Steal Someone's Thunder"?

The term "to steal someone's thunder" means to do or say something that someone else was planning to do or say. For example:
  • The Chancellor deliberately stole the Prime Minister's thunder by revealing the pending tax cuts on The Morning Show.
It can also mean to steal the credit for someone else's work.
  • She stole my thunder by presenting my idea to the board.
It can also mean to undermine someone's news by announcing something more interesting ahead of them.
  • Our engagement announcement went unnoticed because my sister told everyone that she'd just been nominated for the Nobel Science Prize. She totally stole our thunder.

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To Steal Someone's Thunder (Origin)

Examples of Use:

  • Don't steal her thunder by announcing your pregnancy at her baby shower.
  • I put a lot of effort into the group presentation, but another team member stole my thunder.
  • Won't I be stealing your thunder if I get engaged at your wedding?
The idiom originates from the early 18th century, when the dramatist John Dennis invented a thunder machine for his 1709 play "Appius and Virginia." Dennis's play was ultimately unsuccessful, which no doubt contributed to his anger when he found out that his machine was being used at a performance of Macbeth. This scenario is documented in "The lives of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland" (Robert Shiels and Theophilus Cibber):
  • Mr. Dennis happened once to go to the play, when a tragedy was acted [Macbeth], in which the machinery of thunder was introduced, a new artificial method of producing which he had formerly communicated to the managers. Incensed by this circumstance, he cried out in a transport of resentment, 'That is my thunder, by God; the villains will play my thunder, but not my plays.
Of interest, in court rooms, stealing thunder is a tried and tested tactic for undermining the impact of a strong point presented by the opposition. Introducing the point first (and subsequently being open about it or rebutting it) significantly diminishes the opposition's ability to score points with the jury.

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This page was written by Craig Shrives.