Where Does the Phrase “Steal My Thunder” Come From?

(Last Updated On: July 10, 2019)

Where Does the Phrase "Steal My Thunder" Come From?

It’s likely that at some point or another, you’ve had your thunder stolen. And it probably wasn’t a great feeling either. Nobody likes to have their ideas taken so that someone else can use them to their advantage instead. But have you ever really stopped to think about where the phrase “steal my thunder” really comes from?

While you might think the phrase relates to some god, like Zeus or Thor, and a little peasant who stole their power–it actually doesn’t have that grandiose of an origin story. In fact, the saying “steal my thunder” had a very literal meaning when it was first used in the early 1700s.

Quiz yourself: Greek, Norse, or Egyptian God?

Where Does the Phrase “Steal My Thunder” Come From?

Our story begins in 1709 with an English playwright named John Dennis. That year, his production of Appius and Virginia was a total flop, and it was quickly withdrawn from the Drury Lane Theatre

There was one thing that Dennis’ rendition of Appius and Virginia had going for it though–It had really good thunder. Dennis had developed his own kind of thunder sheet, which was really impressive in the 1700s. You might think that this is where the old phrase comes from. Dennis was just salty that he didn’t make money off of his cool thunderous technology. But no, there’s another layer to this whole mess. 

Dennis would later go to a rendition of Macbeth. Do you want to guess what Dennis found at the play? If you guessed, “they were using his new technology,” then you’d be right. 

There is some doubt about what he actually said, but Dennis was reported as saying, “Damn them! They will not let my play run, but they steal my thunder.” He also might have said, “That is my thunder, by God; the villains will play my thunder but not my play!” 

Whichever one you prefer, Dennis literally had his thunder stolen. So now when someone steals your thunder and takes the wind out of your argument, you can thank John Dennis.

It may not be what Dennis wanted, but if you like Macbeth, see how well you can quote their soliloquy here.

About the Author:

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Kyler is a content writer at Sporcle living in Seattle, and is currently studying at the University of Washington School of Law. He's been writing for Sporcle since 2019; sometimes the blog is an excellent platform to answer random personal questions he has about the world. Most of his free time is spent drinking black coffee like water.