The first use of the word "tsunami" in an English language publication was in the September 1896 issue of National Geographic Magazine. Eliza Ruhama Scidmore used the Japanese term to describe what we used to call a tidal wave or (more correctly) an earthquake wave.
Scidmore's article in National Geographic gave the world a gripping insight into the horror of the 1896 tsunami. A few survivors, who saw it advancing in the darkness, reported its height as 80 to 100 feet, she wrote.
"With a difference of but thirty minutes in time between the southern and northern points, it struck the San-Riku coast and in a trice obliterated towns and villages."
In what today looks like an eery precursor of the 2011 tsunami in the same part of Japan, the 1896 wave "washed away and wrecked 9,313 houses, stranded some larger craft--steamers, schooners, and junks--and crushed or carried away 10,000 fishing boats...Thousands of acres of arable land were turned to wastes, projecting rocks offshore were broken, overturned, or moved hundreds of yards, shallows and bars were formed, and in some localities the entire shoreline was changed," Scidmore reported.
Read more about the 1896 disaster at NatGeo Newswatch. Link -Thanks, Marilyn!