In Turkish, the glove compartment of a car is called "torpido gözü", the literal translation of which is "torpedo compartment".

None of the dictionaries I have access to has an etymology for the usage.

I scanned the words for glove compartment in quite a few languages and apparently the Romanian word is "torpedou". Romania and Turkey are not immediate neighbors and other neighboring countries don't seem to use this word. But I can't rule out local or slang words.

There seem to be quite a few car models in the past named "Torpedo" and there may be a connection but I couldn't come up with a specific explanation.


Does anyone know the etymology for this usage or at least does anyone have a hypothesis?

If not, is there any other languages that use the word "torpedo" for glove compartment (slang or local words are welcome too)? Maybe it can shed some light on the issue.

  • This is off-topic because it's just about language usage rather than linguistics.
    – curiousdannii
    Aug 29 '14 at 6:10
  • 4
    Semantics and etymology are very respectable branches of linguistics.
    – fdb
    Aug 29 '14 at 10:13
  • Yes I guess. I'm still not too sure about when we do and don't want single word in single language questions.
    – curiousdannii
    Aug 29 '14 at 14:25

"Torpedo* in the meaning of dashboard / front panel in a car also exists in Ukrainian.

Briefly, the etymology seems to be quite complicated:

  • Latin torpedo — "electric ray";
  • 19th century — sea mine;
  • 1870's — self-propelled sea mine;
  • 1900's — cigar-shaped racing car;
  • Later, the meaning has changed towards "hood", and further to "dashboard/front panel".

1. OED has the following definition of torpedo:

1520s, "electric ray" (flat fish that produces an electric charge to stun prey or for defense), from Latin torpedo "electric ray," originally "numbness, sluggishness" (the fish so called from the effect of being jolted by the ray's electric discharges), from torpere "be numb" (see torpor).

2. When sea mines have been invented, they received name of torpedo because of their ability to strike anything that touches it. The same OED says:

The sense of "explosive device used to blow up enemy ships" is first recorded 1776, as a floating mine; the self-propelled version is from c.1900.

3. Subsequently, this term moved towards self-propelled sea mines that have been invented in 1870's.

4. Before 20th century, cars looked rather like horse carts. With the progress of automobile technology and car racing, the designers equipped their cars with cigar-shaped bodies.

Old racing car Image courtesy of oboi.ws

This article illustrates usage of the term (note, a proper name yet):

Nov 16, 1901: Riker Torpedo Racer sets the world speed record for electric cars.
On November 16, 1901, a spare, low-slung car called the "Torpedo Racer"—basically a square platform on bicycle wheels—breaks the world speed record for electric cars in Coney Island, New York.

Note that the front panel of the depicted car makes a line with the hood.

5. Subsequently, when the wheels became covered inside the body, the front part of the car did not look like a torpedo anymore, so the term has changed its meaning, and now we know it as a synonym of "dashboard".

  • "The term has changed its meaning". In Turkish and Romanian only?
    – fdb
    Aug 28 '14 at 22:14
  • @fdb Not only. At least, Ukrainian and Russian use this word in the same meaning of "car dashboard"
    – bytebuster
    Aug 28 '14 at 22:41
  • That makes it more interesting.
    – fdb
    Aug 28 '14 at 23:05
  • Does it perhaps suggest that it was the box for putting your cigars in?
    – curiousdannii
    Aug 29 '14 at 14:26

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