1. a light to be carried in the hand, consisting of some combustible substance, as resinous wood, or of twisted flax or the like soaked with tallow or other flammable substance, ignited at the upper end.
  2. something considered as a source of illumination, enlightenment, guidance, etc.: the torch of learning.
  3. any of various lamplike devices that produce a hot flame and are used for soldering, burning off paint, etc.
  4. Slang. an arsonist.
  5. Chiefly British. flashlight(def 1).
verb (used without object)
  1. to burn or flare up like a torch.
verb (used with object)
  1. to subject to the flame or light of a torch, as in order to burn, sear, solder, or illuminate.
  2. Slang. to set fire to maliciously, especially in order to collect insurance.
  1. carry the/a torch for, Slang. to be in love with, especially to suffer from unrequited love for: He still carries a torch for his ex-wife.

Origin of torch

1250–1300; Middle English torche (noun) < Old French < Vulgar Latin *torca something twisted. See torque
Related formstorch·a·ble, adjectivetorch·less, adjectivetorch·like, adjective


verb (used with object)
  1. to point (the joints between roofing slates) with a mixture of lime and hair.

Origin of torch

1840–50; < French torcher to plaster with a mixture of clay and chopped straw, derivative of torche a twist of straw. See torch1 Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Related Words for torches

lamp, beacon, lantern, incendiary, light, flash, flare, flambeau

Examples from the Web for torches

Historical Examples of torches

  • He took some lengths of pitchy pine sticks and arranged them for torches.

  • At last it grew dark, and torches began to blaze in front of the booths.

  • Finally, by the light of torches and lanterns, we saw that we had arrived.

    My Double Life

    Sarah Bernhardt

  • They had torches among them, and the chief faces were distinctly visible.

    Barnaby Rudge

    Charles Dickens

  • However, they approached the gap and examined it with their torches.

    The Heads of Apex

    Francis Flagg

British Dictionary definitions for torches


  1. a small portable electric lamp powered by one or more dry batteriesUS and Canadian word: flashlight
  2. a wooden or tow shaft dipped in wax or tallow and set alight
  3. anything regarded as a source of enlightenment, guidance, etcthe torch of evangelism
  4. any apparatus that burns with a hot flame for welding, brazing, or soldering
  5. carry a torch for to be in love with, esp unrequitedly
  6. put to the torch to set fire to; burn downthe looted monastery was put to the torch
  1. (tr) slang to set fire to, esp deliberately as an act of arson
Derived Formstorchlike, adjective

Word Origin for torch

C13: from Old French torche handful of twisted straw, from Vulgar Latin torca (unattested), from Latin torquēre to twist
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

Word Origin and History for torches



late 13c., from Old French torche, originally "twisted thing," hence "torch formed of twisted tow dipped in wax," probably from Vulgar Latin *torca, alteration of Late Latin torqua, variant of classical Latin torques "collar of twisted metal," from torquere "to twist" (see thwart). In Britain, also applied to the battery-driven version (in U.S., flashlight). Torch song is 1927 ("My Melancholy Baby," performed by Tommy Lyman, is said to have been the first so called), from carry a torch "suffer an unrequited love" (also 1927), an obscure notion from Broadway slang.



"set fire to," 1931, from torch (n.). Related: Torched; torching.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Idioms and Phrases with torches


see carry a torch; pass the torch.

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.