tor·​pe·​do | \ tȯr-ˈpē-(ˌ)dō How to pronounce torpedo (audio) \
plural torpedoes

Definition of torpedo

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : a weapon for destroying ships by rupturing their hulls below the waterline: such as
a : a submarine mine
b : a thin cylindrical self-propelled underwater projectile
2 : a small firework that explodes when thrown against a hard object
4 : a professional gunman or assassin


torpedoed; torpedoing\ tȯr-​ˈpē-​də-​wiŋ How to pronounce torpedo (audio) \

Definition of torpedo (Entry 2 of 2)

transitive verb

1 : to hit or sink (a ship) with a naval torpedo : strike or destroy by torpedo
2 : to destroy or nullify altogether : wreck torpedo a plan

Did you know?


Torpedo comes to English by way of Latin torpēdō, which has two quite different meanings. It refers to a state of inertness, sluggishness, or lethargy, and it refers to a creature also known as the electric ray. When English speakers borrowed the Latin word, it was to apply it with this second meaning; in early 16th century English torpedo referred to those round-bodied short-tailed rays that are naturally equipped with a pair of electric organs. (The ancient Greeks reportedly used electric rays to numb the pain of surgery and childbirth.) The most familiar use of torpedo today, referring specifically to the cylindrical underwater naval weapon, dates to the 1866 development of the self-propelled torpedo by British engineer Robert Whitehead—but that use built on a century-old employment of torpedo in referring to another invention. In 1776 a small submersible vessel developed by American inventor David Bushnell was used (unsuccessfully) in an assault on a British ship in New York harbor. Bushnell was reported to have named the vessel “American Turtle or Torpedo.” He didn’t stick with the appellation, but it likely informed Robert Fulton’s use of torpedo for his own underwater explosive devices in the early 19th century, and it laid the groundwork for the word’s application to Whitehead’s torpedo.

Examples of torpedo in a Sentence

Noun The battleship was sunk by a torpedo fired by a submarine. that deli's torpedoes are big enough to serve two people Verb The submarine torpedoed the battleship. Her injury torpedoed her goal of competing in the Olympics.
Recent Examples on the Web: Noun But most striking about the recent video was that the torpedo wasn’t shown exploding off Liverpool or Portsmouth on the British mainland. Michael Peck, Forbes, 3 May 2022 By the following year, the ship was back in service again until it was hit by yet another torpedo, this time launched by a strike bomber attached to a carrier group that included the USS Monterey and Bunker Hill. Courtney Linder, Popular Mechanics, 10 Mar. 2022 Build Back Better bill, which Mr. Manchin helped torpedo last year. Timothy Puko, WSJ, 25 Apr. 2022 Russia is already planning one autonomous weapon, the Poseidon nuclear torpedo, and more may follow. Kyle Mizokami, Popular Mechanics, 17 Feb. 2022 Once located, a hole is drilled over the ice, and the team begins to recover the torpedo. Jon Schlosberg, ABC News, 15 Mar. 2022 In September 1943, an American submarine, Permit, hit the ship with a torpedo. Courtney Linder, Popular Mechanics, 10 Mar. 2022 Two of those arms seem to be longer than the other eight, and its body was shaped like a torpedo, similar to modern squid. Ashley Strickland, CNN, 8 Mar. 2022 The sheer explosive power of a single typical torpedo is enough to break the keel of most ships. David Axe, Forbes, 26 Jan. 2022 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb Still, a setback with Vance wouldn't necessarily torpedo Thiel's rise. Clare Duffy And Brian Fung, CNN, 9 Feb. 2022 McConnell's opposition could be enough to torpedo the commission, seen by Democrats as necessary to independently examine the insurrection by a pro-Trump mob on Jan. 6 that left five that left five dead and 140 police officers injured. Bart Jansen, USA TODAY, 19 May 2021 The move came amid several ongoing court cases even as Amazon has tried hard to torpedo the deal. Niharika Sharma, Quartz, 16 Mar. 2022 So, who might be the likeliest billionaires to torpedo a season based on a few million dollars of luxury tax ceiling? Bob Nightengale, USA TODAY, 8 Mar. 2022 And simply looking down one of these runs can torpedo a skier’s confidence. Frederick Dreier, Outside Online, 22 Feb. 2022 These marks on people’s records, of course, can torpedo efforts to get jobs, professional licenses, housing, loans and other situations in which background checks are required. Justin Ray, Los Angeles Times, 18 Jan. 2022 Who were the people who paid for that dark money campaign that sought to torpedo first Dennis Kucinich and later Justin Bibb in the Cleveland mayor’s race? Laura Johnston, cleveland, 1 Feb. 2022 The AIDS Healthcare Foundation is now looking to torpedo the council’s action. Los Angeles Times, 3 Jan. 2022 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'torpedo.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

First Known Use of torpedo


circa 1520, in the meaning defined at sense 3


circa 1879, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for torpedo


borrowed from Latin torpēdō "state of inertness, sluggishness, lethargy, the electric ray Torpedo marmorata or related species," from torpēre "to be numb, lack sensation, be struck motionless, be sluggish or lethargic" + -din-, -dō, suffix of state — more at torpid

Note: The n-stem suffix -din-, -dō is presumed to have been originally applied to stative verbs such as torpēre. It is directly comparable to the suffix in Greek algedon-, algedṓn "pain, suffering," derived from algéō, algeîn "to feel pain." In Latin the -ē- of the verb was taken as part of the suffix, which was then applied directly to adjectives, the resulting nouns often denoting undesirable or unpleasant states (as gravēdō "head cold, oppressive feeling," dulcēdō "sweetness, pleasantness, itch, irritation," putrēdō "rottenness"; compare as later formations albedo, flavedo). — The application of the word torpedo "electric ray" to submarine warfare dates to the early years of the American Revolution. The Pennsylvania-born inventor David Bushnell (1740-1824 or 26) developed a small submersible vessel in 1776, which was used in an unsuccessful assault on a British ship in New York harbor on September 7th of that year. The physician James Thacher recorded this event in his journal for October: "By some gentlemen from head-quarters, near New York, we are amused with an account of a singular machine, invented by a Mr. D. Bushnell of Connecticut, for the purpose of destroying the British shipping by explosion …Mr. Bushnell gave to his machine the name of American Turtle or Torpedo" (Military Journal of the American Revolution, [Hartford, CT, 1862], pp. 62-63). Bushnell appears to have given the name "torpedo" to his submarine, rather than solely to the time-detonated powder magazine that was meant to be screwed into the hull of a ship below the waterline. In a description of the boat and powder magazine sent in a letter to Thomas Jefferson in October, 1787, Bushnell used neither "turtle" nor "torpedo." (The letter was published as "General Principles and Construction of a Sub-marine Vessel" in Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, vol. 4 [1799], pp. 303-12.) In 1777 Bushnell experimented with floating mines—powder kegs set off by a spring-released flintlock—but these too failed to damage a British vessel. Probably not unconnected to Bushnell's "torpedo," the same word was used by Robert fulton in the early nineteenth century to refer to underwater explosive devices of his own design, in letters and a pamphlet Torpedo War, and Submarine Explosions (New York, 1810); Fulton believed that submarine mines, his "torpedoes," would effectually end aggressive naval warfare and ensure freedom of the seas. With the development of the self-propelled torpedo by the British engineer Robert Whitehead in 1866, the word torpedo began to be applied solely to such devices, with submarine mine or a similar term reserved for stationary explosive devices.


derivative of torpedo entry 1

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The first known use of torpedo was circa 1520

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torpedo boat

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Last Updated

23 May 2022

Cite this Entry

“Torpedo.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 28 May. 2022.

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More Definitions for torpedo


tor·​pe·​do | \ tȯr-ˈpē-dō How to pronounce torpedo (audio) \
plural torpedoes

Kids Definition of torpedo

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: a long narrow self-propelled underwater weapon used for blowing up ships


torpedoed; torpedoing

Kids Definition of torpedo (Entry 2 of 2)

: to hit with or destroy by a torpedo

More from Merriam-Webster on torpedo

Nglish: Translation of torpedo for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of torpedo for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about torpedo


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