Apparently the word torpedo has two definitions: in addition to the underwater missile, the term can also refer to a type of electric ray fish. The newer sense of the word was coined by American inventor Robert Fulton when he first thought of creating floating explosive charges in the early nineteenth century. For a while, it referred only to rudimentary naval mines, but that got extended to fancier technologies like the self-propelled weapon when they was invented. The fish name comes from the Latin verb torpere, meaning "to be numb", because one effect of being stung by the ray's electric discharge is that you feel numb in the affected area. Finally, that comes from the Proto-Indo-European reconstruction ster, meaning "stiff" (also the root of words like stark, startle, torpid, and stern).
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Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a senior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.