One of the mysteries of the English language finally explained.
1A wave on the surface of water; (Science) a wave of displacements propagated along the surface of a liquid or a solid, or along an interface between them; (Seismology) a seismic wave that travels along the earth's surface.
2Radio. A radio wave that travels close to the surface of the earth, propagated chiefly by interaction with the surface.
Late 18th century; earliest use found in James Anderson (1739–1808), agriculturist and political economist. From surface + wave.
surface wave/ˈsəːfɪs ˌweɪv/
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