late 13c., from O.Fr. torche, originally "twisted thing," hence "torch formed of twisted tow dipped in wax," probably from V.L. *torca, alteration of L.L. torqua, variant of classical L. torques "collar of twisted metal," from torquere "to twist" (see thwart
). In Britain,
also applied to the battery-driven version (in U.S., flashlight). Verb meaning "set fire to" is first attested 1931. 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.