Why do British people call flashlights “torches”?

- May 24, 2019-

As has been said, a “Torch” is a way of making light using a rag, wrapped round a stick, dipped in pitch and set alight. This goes back to the earliest days when we lived in caves! The term “Flash light” I believe comes from the way “Electric Torches” were built when I was a boy. every torch had 2 switches, on turned on a continuous light, and the other a button to “Flash” the light to send Morse Code, hence the term “Flash Light”. As often happens with the English language, the mother tongue is adapted by you “colonials” to express your independence, or something. Over the years, the simple Torch, used for general lighting has become the Lantern, either liquid fuel, gas or electric, and as such, would be a more correct term to refer to this sort of light as it is a device for general lighting. The Torch, as we know it is more akin to a spotlight, with a defined beam. One thing I have noticed is that the Morse button is no longer a feature on torches sold on the high street, a great loss to boy scouts and youngsters who, in my day, would flash messages to friends at night from a fair distance. Some might say that mores Code is a redundant medium, but it is still in daily use, just listen to the Amateur bands, as a long distance way of communicating when there is a lot of static about, indeed, parts of the spectrum are dedicated to Morse only, so it far from a “dead” art. At the end of the day, does it really matter, we all know what we mean by a Flash light or Torch, much as we all know that the Americans call the Boot of a car the Trunk, and the Bonnet, a Hood. While it may be confusing to some, personally, I believe that these odd differences increase diversity, and ultimately understanding between peoples, which can be no bad thing.