How did ‘steal one’s thunder’ originate?

Every time I tell you about something I’m going to do, you go ahead and do it first. Why do you continue to steal my thunder?

Ever used this particular phrase? We all know what it means but how did it originate?

While it’s quite rare for etymologists to be able to pinpoint the exact origin of a phrase, etymologists are fairly confident about the beginnings of this idiom.

It was 1704 in London, when a fellow by the name of John Dennis created a sound effect for thunder that he used in his own theatre production Appius and Virginia, which was produced at the Drury Lane Theatre. It isn’t known exactly how Dennis made the sound effect (though some believe it may have been created using metal balls rolling around inside a wooden bowl).

Appius and Virginia wasn’t the great success that Dennis would have liked, and when sales fell, so too did the curtain, and the production closed early.

However, Dennis’ sound effect became quite popular. The next play shown in the theatre was Macbeth, of which Dennis was an audience member. When the familiar sound of his thunder erupted during the performance, Dennis was reported to have jumped up and cried: “That is my thunder, by God; the villains will play my thunder but not my play.”

And that’s how this lively phrase was coined.

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