Under the etymological “gun”

Gun. It’s such a cruelly simple word for a terrorizing technology that is senselessly and needlessly claiming too many American lives—59 alone, as we witnessed in the horrific massacre in Las Vegas this week. Where does this deadly word derive from?

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Launch: Etymology of the Day

Via French lancher/lancier, launch ultimately comes from the Latin lancea, a “light spear,” which is also the source of lance (except we’re not using spears anymore…). The verb, first attested in the early 1400s, shifted from “hurl” to “send off,” hence boats and, much more scarily, missiles.

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Angel with the lance, Ponte Sant’Angelo, Rome. (Wikimedia Commons)

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Going “ballistic”

The same Greek root of ballistic gives us such words as ballet, devil, parliament, and symbol.

On July 4th, North Korea successfully tested its first ICBM, or intercontinental ballistic missile. As intercontinental leaders figure how what to do next, let’s go ballistic—etymologically, that is.

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A reconstructed ancient ballista, Latin source of the word ballistic. (Image from the Alexis Project, photo by Nick Watts).

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