Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Daily Hump: Torpedo

The Latin word torpedo, coming from the verb torpere, meaning "to be numbed," entered the English language in the 16th c. as a name for the electric ray, so called for its ability to shock. The weaponized version of the torpedo was invented by Robert Fulton for use with his Nautilus submarine; but rather than a self-propelled underwater missile, these torpedoes were stationary mines that floated in the water (these are what Union naval officer David Farragut was referring to when he apocryphally exclaimed "Damn the torpedoes!"). It wasn't until World War I that our modern concept of the torpedo came into fruition. Related, we find the word torpor, meaning a lethargic state.

The Latin torpere can be traced back to the Proto-Indo-European root *ster-, meaning stiff, and is the source of our word sterile (which originally had the sense of rigidity--kind of funny).

torpedo [Online Etymology Dictionary]
torpor [Online Etymology Dictionary]
sterile [Online Etymology Dictionary]
torpedo [OED]
torpedo [Wikipedia]
electric ray [Wikipedia]

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:: posted by David, 9:03 AM


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