General English


  • noun a hand-held battery-powered device for producing light


  • noun an arsonist, especially one who is paid to burn down buildings in order to collect fire insurance. The word, which is part of police and underworld jargon, is also used as a verb.
  • verb to set fire to something, usually to get rid of incriminating evidence or as part of an insurance fraud

Origin & History of “torch”

A torch is etymologically something ‘twisted’. The word comes via Old French torche from vulgar Latin *torca, which was derived from the Latin verb torquēre ‘twist’ (source also of English torment, torture, etc). The notion underlying the word is of pieces of straw or similar material ‘twisted’ together and then dipped in some inflammable material. That is what it still denotes in American English, but in British English it has been reapplied to a battery-driven alternative to this.