launch

1
[ lawnch, lahnch ]
/ lɔntʃ, lɑntʃ /

verb (used with object)

verb (used without object)

to burst out or plunge boldly or directly into action, speech, etc.
to start out or forth; push out or put forth on the water.

noun

the act of launching.

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Origin of launch

1
First recorded in 1300–50; late Middle English launche, from Anglo-French lancher, from Late Latin lanceāre “to wield a lance”; see lance1

OTHER WORDS FROM launch

launch·a·ble, adjectiveun·launched, adjectivewell-launched, adjective

Definition for launch (2 of 2)

launch2
[ lawnch, lahnch ]
/ lɔntʃ, lɑntʃ /

noun

a heavy open or half-decked boat propelled by oars or by an engine.
a large utility boat carried by a warship.

Origin of launch

2
First recorded in 1690–1700; from Spanish, Portuguese lancha, earlier Portuguese lanchara, first attested in 1515 in an account of boats encountered near the Strait of Malacca; further origin uncertain; perhaps from Malay lancharan, derivative of lanchar “swift,” unless modern Malay lancha is from Portuguese;
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2020

BEHIND THE WORD

Where does launch come from?

Rocket ships and medieval knights wouldn’t seem like they have a lot in common. We launch rocket ships into outer space—something those old knights, trotting around on horseback and wielding their lances, could hardly have ever imagined.

Launch entered English around 1300–50. Back then, launch meant “to rush, spring (into motion), send forth, hurl (a weapon).” Launch comes from French, which in turn comes from Late Latin lanceāre, “to wield a lance.” This verb, lanceāre, is based on the Latin noun lancea, “lance, spear.” The Latin lancea may ultimately come from an ancient Celtic word.

As you’ve probably guessed, the Latin lancea is the ultimate source of the English lance, originally “a long wooden shaft with a pointed metal head, used as a weapon by knights and cavalry soldiers in charging.” Slightly older than the verb launch, lance entered English around 1250–1300.

Now, the Late Latin verb lanceāre also yields (through French) the English verb lance. Today, that verb is mainly used for actions of piercing and making incisions—much finer and more careful cuts, thankfully, than resulted from a knight’s lance. But in the early 1300s, lance was effectively a synonym for launch, also meaning “to throw or hurl.”

Dig deeper

When did we start saying we launched such things as boats? That sense of launch is so far first evidenced, as it happens, during the heydey of knights launching lances. This sense of launch, meaning “to a set (a boat or ship) in the water,” is recorded in the Alliterative Morte Arthure, a remarkable poem about that legendary leader of knights, King Arthur, dated to around 1400.

The basic, underlying sense of launch (“to send forth”) has inspired many other metaphorical extensions, from launching careers and launching products to book launches, campaign launches, and, by the time we entered the Space Age, rocket launches.

Did you know ... ?

Speaking of King Arthur, his greatest knight—and most notorious, thanks to his love affair with Queen Guinevere—was Lancelot. As legend has it, Lancelot was also one of the greatest jousters of his day. Jousters fight on horseback with lances. Is that how Lancelot got his name?

That Lancelot is spelled like lance appears to be the result of association, the name shaped into its form under the influence of French. The origin of the name Lancelot is obscure, but it is probably ultimately Celtic or Germanic. You might say that efforts to root Lancelot simply in lance have failed to … launch.

Example sentences from the Web for launch

British Dictionary definitions for launch (1 of 2)

launch1
/ (lɔːntʃ) /

verb

noun

an act or instance of launching

Word Origin for launch

C14: from Anglo-French lancher, from Late Latin lanceāre to use a lance, hence, to set in motion. See lance

British Dictionary definitions for launch (2 of 2)

launch2
/ (lɔːntʃ) /

noun

a motor driven boat used chiefly as a transport boat
the largest of the boats of a man-of-war

Word Origin for launch

C17: via Spanish lancha and Portuguese from Malay lancharan boat, from lanchar speed
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012