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– last updated May 6, 2015

There are ten thunderwords in the Wake, the first nine are 100 letters long, the last 101. While they are aurally constructed to sound like thunder, they are not purely onomotopoietic words: they are assembled out of words or parts of words.

It is thought by many (including myself) that the thunder is the only aspect[FN] of the 'real' world of the dreamer of Finnegans Wake to appear in the book: there is a thunderstorm while he is dreaming; when thunder cracks it makes its way into in the dream.

[FN] BenstockJoyce-again's Wake, 199-200 and n.) also adds as an external event brought into the dream the churchbells heard through the night, as with "Pingpong! There's the Belle for Sexaloitez! And Concepta de Send-us-pray! Pang! Wring out the clothes! Wring in the dew!" (213.18-20). He includes six other primary occurances, and a handful of minor occurrences. I myself can go either way with it: I'm not wholly convinced they need be from outside the dream; though I also know no reason they can't be so.

However, what the thunderwords mark, what they stand for, that is another issue. Often it is said they mark epochal moments in the dream: though I am not so sure myself as to that. As I find theories to the point – and as I develop my own theory – I will add them below. Of course, there is a well known book dedicated to the thunderwords: The Role of Thunder in Finnegans Wake by Eric McLuhan. (Though, I have not read that book, yet, myself.)

The list will be of each thunderword by location (broken as they are in the text), each followed first by a comment as to its location in the text (in italics); then by McHugh's notes on the word (using his abbreviations); finally by any other comments on the word. Encompassing theories on the words I will offer below the list. (Note, I am using here the 2d edition of McHugh.)


1. 3.15-17 (ch 1.1)


Occurs on the first page of the book, at the first mention of the Fall.


McHugh: J kaminari: thunder; Hin karak: thunder; Gr brontaô: I thunder; F tonnerre: thunder; It tuono: thunder; Sw åska: thunder; I tórnach: thunder; Port trovão: thunder; Old Rum tun: thunder; Da todenen: the thunder;


2. 23.5-7 (ch 1.1)


Occurs near the end of the tale of Jarl von Hoother and the Prankquean.

McHugh: Lettish perkons: thunder; T gök gürliy or: thundering sky; Ma guntur: thunder; Bre kurun: thunder; Li griauja: it thunders; R grom gremit: thunder thunders; Rum thuna: thunder; Ki radi: thunder; Arab dill: thunder; Fiukkonen: thunder; Ice þruma: thunder; Sa faititily: thunder; Alb bumulloj: thunder


3. 44.20-21 (ch 1.2)


Occurs as applause leading into the singing of the Ballad of Persse O'Reilly.


McHugh: F claque: clap; G Klatsch: clap; It battere: to clap; R khlopat: clap


4. 90.31-33 (ch 1.4)


Occurs during the trial of the Pesty King, in relation to Issy.


McHugh: Latin scortum: whore; Gr pornê: whore Li kekše: whore; Sh stripu: whore; It puttana: whore; I striopach: whore


5. 113.9-11 (ch 1.5)


Occurs during the description of the letter.


McHugh: can-can: dance


6. 257.27-28 (ch 2.1)


Occurs at the close of the Mime of Mick, Nick, and the Maggies.


McHugh: Da luk døren: shut the door; It chiudi l'uscio: shut the door!; F fermez la porte: shut the door; Fermoy, Co. Cork; G Türe zu: shut the door!; M Gr sphalna portan: shut the door; R zakroi dver': shut the door; Fi kapakka: tavern; G kaputt; T kapiyi kapat: shut the door


7. 314.8-9 (ch 2.3)


Occurs during the Earwicker tavern scene, in coordination with a fall.


McHugh: both all characters coming around; G ganz um: all around; someone or other; nr Humpty Dumpty: 'wall'; I ludramán lazy idler


8. 332.5-7 (ch 2.3)


Occurs later in the same, tavern sequence, right before Kate comes with the note from Anna Livia.


McHugh: I Piaras an Ua Raghailleach na Tulaige Mongáin: Piers the descendant of Reilly (Raghallach) of Tullymongan (in Breffni) (099.26); 'whack-fol-the-diddle' (refrain in songs); s Yankee Doodle


9. 414.19-20 (ch 3.1)


Occurs as Shaun begins the tale of the Ondt and the Gracehoper.


McHugh: GHusten: cough; coughing; Ltussem: cough; Ina casachta: of the cough; It tosse: cough; We peswch: cough; PS kašel: cough; F toux: cough; M Gr bêx: cough (pron. 'bix'); M br bêchos: of a cough


10. 424.20-22 (ch 3.1)


Occurs later in the same extended sequence, in the argument between Shem and Shaun.


McHugh: Ull: Norse patron god of skiing and archer; Hoder: blind god, killed Baldur; N todenveir: thunderstorm; Midgaard: Earth in Norse myth; Urd: a Norse Fate; Fenrir: son of Loki; bogeyman; Grimnir: Odin; Gungnir: Odin's Spear; Mjollnir: Thor's hammer; Oddrun: sister of Stli; Surt: ruler of the Norse fire world; ONRagnarøkr: destruction of the Norse Gods


– Shaun speaks this word, to which Shem gives reply:

23 — The hundredlettered name again, last word of perfect lan-
24 guage. But you could come near it, we do suppose, strong Shaun
25 O', we foresupposed. How?

Shem mocks, for, of course, Shaun gets it wrong: this time the word has 101 letters.

Benstock'sJoyce-again's Wake, 198-99 description of the ten thunders (I leave out the line citations):

The first thunderclap is the basic fall motif [. . .]; the second is the slamming of Jarl van Hoother's castle door; the third announces the ballad written by Hosty; the fourth is an obscene rumble during the trial, suggesting the fall in the park; the fifth is the babble of the gossipy letter; the sixth is the slamming of the Earwicker door after the children have come in from their play; the seventh records the din in the tavern as Earwicker's reputation takes a fall and Finnegan is again heard toppling from this scaffold; the eighth is the noise of radio static preceding the Crimean War broadcast, as well as the orgasm during the seduction of Anna Livia; the ninth is Shaun's cough as he clears his throat in preparation for the recounting of the Ondt-Gracehoper fable; and the last follows soon after, Shaun's angry rumble of abuse against Shem serving as the basic thunderclap of destruction before the Cabalistic regeneration begins.