Word Stories # 1 TASER.

This week the police were involved in an embarrassing incident with a 61-year-old blind man. Here is Richard Littlejohn’s account:

Today’s high-velocity edition of Mind How You Go comes from Chorley, Lancashire, where police Tasered a blind man on his way to the pub.

According to the officer involved, he mistook Colin Farmer’s white stick for a samurai sword. As you do. It’s the kind of mistake anyone could make.

So when the stroke victim ignored an instruction to stop, the cop pumped 50,000 volts into him.

… Surely when Mr Farmer hit the deck, writhing in agony, the officer must have realised he’d made a terrible mistake. Instead he knelt on his back and handcuffed him.

Just as well Mr Farmer didn’t have a guide dog with him, otherwise this could have turned into Gunfight At The OK Corral.

 Today I want to look at the etymology of the word.The Taser was invented by a NASA scientist called Jack Cover who worked on it between 1969 and 1974. As a child Cover had devoured a series of children’s books about a hero called Tom Swift, one of those politically incorrect adventuring types. Tom Swift and his Electric Rifle was the tenth in the series and was published in 1911.  In it our intrepid hero is Africa on a quest to rescue a husband and wife Christian missionary team captured by pygmy savages in the jungle. Luckily he has an impressive weapon a rifle that uses electricity rather than bullets. This was what gave Cover the idea for his invention. So he decided to call it Tom Swift’s Electric Rifle, or TSER. However, this wasn’t catchy enough so he decided to add a gratuitous initial and make it Thomas A. Swift’s Electric Rifle, or TASER. It does sound like a tall story, but I saw it at the Inky Fool website and it is accepted by the OED.

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