- n. an ancient military engine for hurling stones, arrows, etc.
You might be wondering why, in a segment normally devoted to esotery and foreign words, I’ve used something as relatively pedestrian as ‘catapult.’
Well, as in most cases, it boils down to etymology. What you’re likely to find is that catapult comes to English through the Latin catapulta, a war machine for throwing, which was in turn taken from the original Greek katapaltēs (καταπάλτης), from kata pállein, which mean ‘against’ and ‘throw or hurl,’ respectively. Hence, an object capable of hurling (something) against (something else).
However, the much cooler etymology—possibly lost because of the inexplicable definition swap between “catapult” and “ballista” something in the fourth century—is katapaltēs, which means “shield piercer” (peltes meaning ‘small shield’ and being the etymology root for our use of ‘pelt’ as an animal fur).
At its inception, the catapult hurled sharp darts, not blunt objects like rocks. It was meant to kill enemy soldiers regardless of shields or armor.