Damn the torpedoes

Damn the torpedoes is an idiom that can be traced to one source. An idiom is a commonly used word, group of words, or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery or metaphors, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech like an often-used metaphor have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom, which may use slang words or other parts of speech common in American slang or British slang, is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions and idiomatic language such as hit the sack, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, silver lining, back to the drawing board, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, hit the nail on the head, face the music, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, because they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. English phrases that are idioms should not be taken literally. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker; it is helpful to maintain a list of phrases, common expressions, colloquial terms, and popular expressions to memorize that are used figuratively or idiomatically. We will examine the meaning of the common saying damn the torpedoes, where it came from, and some examples of its idiomatic usage in sentences.

Damn the torpedoes is an idiom that means to go ahead heedless of risk, to continue regardless of danger. The expression damn the torpedoes is the first half of a longer idiom, damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead. The idiom is derived from a quotation attributed to American Union Admiral David Farragut during the Civil War. When faced with Confederate mines in Mobile Bay, the admiral pressed on irrespective of the danger, declaring, “Damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead.” The word “speed” has replaced the word “steam” in the quotation, but both iterations are still found. The expression damn the torpedoes has been in use since the American Civil War; however, the phrase rose in popularity significantly during World War II.


Although the crisis hasn’t reached that point, it was relatively easy to transform Scenic into a venue for mass vaccinations — once the “damn the torpedoes; full-speed ahead” decision was made. (Modesto Bee)

The voice of President Roosevelt sets out the high stakes: “Our American merchant ships must be free to carry our American goods into the harbours of our friends … the goods will be delivered by this nation whose Navy believes in the tradition of ‘damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead’”. (Sydney Morning Herald)

With all he does, a constant in Lake’s persona and tone is his damn-the-torpedoes, full-steam-ahead bravado. (Rochester City Newspaper)

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