Etymology
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rocket (n.2)

[self-propelling projectile] 1610s, "projectile consisting of a cylindrical tube of pasteboard filled with flammable or explosive matter," from Italian rocchetto "a rocket," literally "a bobbin," diminutive of rocca "a distaff," so called because of cylindrical shape. The Italian word probably is from a Germanic source (compare Old High German rocko "distaff," Middle Dutch rokke, Old Norse rokkr), from Proto-Germanic *rukkon- (from PIE root *rug- "fabric, spun yarn").

Originally of fireworks rockets, the meaning "device propelled by a rocket engine" is recorded by 1919 (Goddard); rocket-ship in the space-travel sense is attested from February 1927 ("Popular Science"); earlier as a type of naval warship firing projectiles. Rocket science in the figurative sense of "difficult, complex process or topic" is attested by 1985; rocket scientist is from 1952.

That such a feat is considered within the range of possibility is evidenced by the activities of scientists in Europe as well as in America. Two of them, Prof. Herman Oberth and Dr. Franz Hoeff, of Vienna, are constructing a five-ton rocket ship in which they hope to reach the moon in two days. [Popular Science, February 1927]
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rocket (n.1)

garden plant of the cabbage family, c. 1500, rokette, from French roquette (16c.), perhaps via Italian rochetta, diminutive of ruca "a kind of cabbage," from Latin eruca "colewort," perhaps so called for its downy stems and related to ericus "hedgehog," also "a beam set with spikes" (from PIE *ghers- "to bristle;" see horror).

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rocket (v.)

"fly straight up, spring like a rocket," 1860, from rocket (n.2). Earlier "to attack with rockets" (1799). Meaning "send up by a rocket" is from 1837. Related: Rocketed; rocketing.

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engine (n.)

c. 1300, "mechanical device," especially one used in war; "manner of construction," also "skill, craft, innate ability; deceitfulness, trickery," from Old French engin "skill, wit, cleverness," also "trick, deceit, stratagem; war machine" (12c.), from Latin ingenium "innate qualities, ability; inborn character," in Late Latin "a war engine, battering ram" (Tertullian, Isidore of Seville); literally "that which is inborn," from in- "in" (from PIE root *en "in") + gignere, from PIE *gen(e)-yo-, suffixed form of root *gene- "give birth, beget."

Sense of "device that converts energy to mechanical power" is 18c.; in 19c. especially of steam engines. Middle English also had ingeny (n.) "gadget, apparatus, device," directly from Latin ingenium.

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steam-engine (n.)

1751; earlier in the same sense was fire-engine (1722), atmospheric engine.

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retro-rocket (n.)

1945, "anti-submarine weapon fired backward from an airplane at the same velocity as the plane" (so it falls straight down), from retro- + rocket (n.). By 1957 as an auxiliary rocket on a spacecraft to thrust forward and oppose the forward motion.

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fire-engine (n.)

1680s, "engine designed to throw a stream of water through a hose onto a fire for the purpose of extinguishing it," from fire (n.) + engine (n.). Also an early name for a steam engine (1722).

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thruster (n.)

type of rocket engine, 1962, agent noun; see thrust (n.).

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propellant (n.)

"driving forward, propelling," the less-etymological, but more usual, modern spelling of propellent,1640s, from propel + -ent. As a noun from 1814, "that which propels or drives forward;" by 1881 as "a firearm explosive;" by 1919 as "fuel for a rocket engine."

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rocketry (n.)

"science or use of rockets and rocket propulsion," 1930, from rocket (n.2) + -ry.

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