• torch •
torch • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A flame at the end of a stick used for light. 2. [British] A portable electric light, equivalent to flashlight in the US. 3. [Slang] A professional arsonist. 4. A device that produces a very hot flame for welding.
Notes: Now that the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing are almost over, we are at last paying homage to them by discussing their symbol, the torch and the flame on it, which is carried from Greece to the current site, Beijing, via all previous sites. In ancient Greece a fire was kept burning throughout the Olympics, commemorating the theft of fire from the Olympic god Zeus by Prometheus. Torch is a remarkable word in that it is among the few in English pronounced exactly as it is spelled. Don't forget to add an E if you pluralize it: torches.
In Play: Despite the Olympic symbolism of torches, the word is more closely associated with love: "Marian Kind is still carrying a torch for Phil Anders," meaning that she is still in love with him. Marian may spend her time singing torch songs, romantic songs about unrequited love. Outside the US, a torch is what we in the US call a flashlight, so in Britain carrying a torch for someone may simply mean that one person is helping another by transporting their portable electric lamp.
Word History: Middle English borrowed today's Good Word from Old French torche, derived from Latin torqua, a variant of torques "torque" from Latin torquere "to twist". The original torches would then seem to have been made of straw or sticks tightly twisted together so as to slow their burning. The root which gave us torquere came to Modern German as quer "transverse" and to English as thwart. We also find surprising evidence of torquere in the name of a flower. Nasturtium seems to have come from a compound based on nasus "nose" + tortare "twist repeatedly". Do you mix twisted noses with your roses?
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