'Ballistic' Trends After North Korea Fires
What makes a missile ballistic?
Ballistic was among our top look ups on July 28th, 2017, following North Korea’s firing of a missile which is modified by this particular adjective.
North Korea has taken another step toward achieving its stated goal of being able to send a nuclear weapon to the U.S. mainland, apparently firing another ballistic missile late Friday.
—Anna Fifield, The Washington Post, 28 Jul. 2017
Ballistic comes from the Latin word ballista, which was the name for a military siege engine which would hurl missiles a considerable distance (and despite the similarity between the initial parts of the words, this is not the same root that gave us the word ball).
The word has had the meaning of “of or belonging to the hurling of missiles” since at least 1764. The sense which is often encountered in modern speech and writing, and which is usually unrelated to military matters is go ballistic (“to become very angry or excited”); this sense of ballistic is much more recent, and does not appear to have been in use prior to the mid-20th century.