Cubic is the adjective form of the noun cube.

Where did the adjective ballistic originate? Is ballistic the adjective form of ball?

The word ballista means a catapult. Is this because the launched items were balls? Or there is another reason?

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    Please include the research you’ve done, or consider if your question suits our English Language Learners site better. Questions that can be answered using commonly-available references are off-topic.
    – Hot Licks
    Nov 8, 2018 at 13:36
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    @Mitch. Ok. How is that relevant...?
    – user91988
    Nov 8, 2018 at 18:36
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    @cde trebuchet are a type of catapult, just like a shotgun is a type of firearm
    – mcalex
    Nov 9, 2018 at 2:33
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    @Mitch most English speakers ... who didn't/don't play age of empires, world of warcraft, d & d or watch game of thrones - though Cersei does call them scorpions. I don't think it's that obscure a term
    – mcalex
    Nov 9, 2018 at 3:47
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    @mcalex: You're inverting the definitions. A catapult is able to hurl objects at a great distance, but that doesn't mean that every object that can hurl objects at a great distance is a catapult. Look up cow: "a large female farm animal kept to produce meat and milk". However, that definition could also apply to other animals such as a goat, and that does not in any way mean that a cow is a goat, or a goat is a cow. Similarly, catapults, trebuchets and ballistae have the same purpose but are distinct types of siege engine.
    – Flater
    Nov 9, 2018 at 12:01

4 Answers 4


From EtymOnline, "ballistic":

"pertaining to construction and use of thrown objects," ultimately from Greek ballein "to throw"

A ballista could use stone (ball) projectiles, but also fired bolts like a crossbow. The "ball" in "ballistic" and "ball" as in a round object are only homonyms - they sound the same and are spelled the same but ultimately have nothing to do with each other, as "ball" is believed to come from a Germanic source.


Given that the plural form of ballista is ballistae, I have a strong felling that the word comes from Latin and is formed this way:

ballista = stem ball + suffix -ista

And in Latin, stem ball comes from Greek and has the meaning of throwing, while -ista means "one who exercises or practices something" (1st declension, matching the plural nominative of -istae). So ballista literally means one who throws, not any balls.

so the -ball- part in ballista doesn't really have anything to do with ball despite looking simila, as said in Alan T's answer.

Side note: ballistae fire more arrows than stone balls, or i.e. more "long and thin" projectiles than "round and big" objects.

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    True, though -ista isn't a native Latin suffix: it comes from Greek -istēs. I don't think it was ever productive in Latin; I've never seen it attached to a native Latin stem, only Greek ones.
    – Draconis
    Nov 8, 2018 at 21:00

In Ancient Greek, ball-ein means "to throw". The ending -ist-ēs is just like "-ist" in English, meaning someone who does something. So a ball-ist-ēs is someone (or in this case something) that throws: it launches wooden or metal bolts, with a mechanism that looks a bit like a crossbow's. In Latin, the -ēs ending was replaced with -a, giving "ballista".

Similarly, in Ancient Greek, the ending -ic-os means "pertaining to". So something that's ball-ist-ic-os is "pertaining to throwing things", or acting like something shot out of a ballista.

"Ball" in English is a complete coincidence; it comes from a different Proto-Indo-European root. The cognate of "ball" in Latin is actually foll-is "airbag", which much later became English "fool".


The adjective "ballistic" describes the flight of an object through space. It usually applies to projectiles like bullets or rockets that are fired from weapons.

the word comes from weapon "BALLISTA", which chucked rocks into the air,

whose name comes from the Greek for "throw."

If someone has “gone ballistic,” they're crazy with anger. When you go ballistic, you’re just like an unmanned missile: you fly into a fit of rage and lose control over your feelings or actions.


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    gone ballistic in terms of an anger response is so new I always thought it referred to the launch of nuclear weapons (which are on ballistic e.g. suborbital) missiles.
    – Joshua
    Nov 8, 2018 at 19:47

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