In the slang of the submarine arm of the navy, a torpedo is called a “fish,” and in applying this nickname our sailors are more nearly correct than they are probably aware with respect to the origin of the name.
For the object which was the first torpedo was indeed a fish, in particular, that fish that is also called the electric ray, because of its ability to emit electric discharges that benumb the person who may unsuspectingly come into contact with it.
And it is that ability that gave the fish its name.
Torpedo has the meaning of “stiffness, numbness” in Latin, from torpere, “to be stiff or numb,” and it is exactly this quality that led the word to be applied to military mines of both land and sea.
In the evolution of military parlance, the term is now used almost exclusively for the self-propelled marine mines that so closely resemble the action of the fish from which they took their name.