No, it's not what you think. I have not started wondering obsessively about weapons of war. As a matter of fact, the only reason this word came up was that it is was on the label of a type of Sierra Nevada beer I was drinking the other day. The only place I've ever seen these, though they must be common enough, is at the Mexican grocery that's on my way home. It's taken me a couple of years to wonder why it was called 'Torpedo'. And then, only as an afterthought, I wondered how torpedoes--those more familiar weapons of mass destruction--came by their name. It's not an English word--well, now I suppose it is. So what was it originally--Spanish?
What I'm guessing is that torpedoes must be named after some kind of fish, or shark--something deadly that moves swiftly underwater. Either that, or it's some kind of acronym. What's your bet?
Okay, maybe it's not fair to say this now, but I did wonder a bit about the similarity to the word 'torpid', meaning sluggish or slow. But that hardly seemed likely, so I figured it was a false etymology. The word 'torpedo' does come from a fish, of the genus torpedo, naturally, which is composed of electric rays, some of which are more commonly known as 'crampfish' or 'numbfish'. (More commonly known to some, I'll just add.) The connection to the word torpor is in the effect they have on their victims, in that they numb or cause torpor with the electrical charge they give off.
The progression seems to have been figuring out ways to secretly attach mines to enemy vessels, to developing floating mines that lay hidden underwater, with the unfortunate consequence of being hazardous to both sides, to 'spar' torpedoes, where the explosive device was basically set out on a long stick in front of a vessel and would detonate upon impact with another vessel, to finally figuring out ways to have these explosives self-propel themselves through the water toward a designated target. It was trickier than you might think to get these machines to stay under the water and to keep their aim true.
Here's a couple of things I didn't know. The first coinage of the word 'torpedo' for weaponry is attributed to Robert Fulton, he of steamboat fame. While in France, he developed what is thought of as the first practical submarine, the Nautilus. The Nautilus was designed to drag a 'carcass', ie, a mine. The ship pulled up alongside its target and drove a spiked eye into the enemy's wood hull. The submarine then sped off releasing the mine on a line that paid out through this eye, and only when the end of the rope had been reached did the mine explode on contact, while the Nautilus was safely away. It was demonstrated successfully on several occasions, but failed to capture European interest.
Which is why we remember him for the steamboat, I guess.
You know that famous line about torpedoes? "_____ the torpedoes, full speed ahead!" Well, I always thought it was "Man the torpedoes, full speed ahead!" But that was wrong. It came at a moment in the Civil War when the ironclad leadship, the U.S.S. Tecumsah, had just been sunk by tethered floating mines, then called torpedoes, at the Battle of Mobile Bay, and the whole fleet paused, afraid of going forward into these parlous waters. This is when David Farragut, who was watching the sinking while lashed to the rigging of his own ship, rallied the troops by ordering, "Damn the the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!" Which led to a major victory.
There is probably a lot more about torpedoes that I don't know. But I'm sure the real question here is, what about the beer? I have to admit that, because of where I found it, I assumed it was a label marketed to the Hispanic community here. But I'm wrong. According to their website, Sierra Nevada is "a big American IPA; bold, assertive, and full of flavor highlighting the complex citrus, pine, and herbal character of whole-cone American hops." I don't know why it's called Torpedo. Maybe because it packs a wallop? Or it's 'mind-numbingly' good?
Nor do I know why this little Mexican market is the only outlet I've ever noticed in town. Safe to say, though, that it must make someone very, very hoppy.
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