The “Taser” is a serious weapon, but what the name stands for may puzzle you

The electroshock weapon called the Taser, which is typically used by police when trying to control a fleeing suspect, uses an electrical current that causes neuromuscular incapacitation. In other words, if you’re struck by a Taser, your chances of getting away are null.

There have been plenty of controversies involving the device and law enforcement. One of the most internet-famous incidents may be the 2007 altercation that led to the phrase “Don’t tase me, bro.”The story of how the Taser got its name, however, is an even wackier yarn.

John H. “Jack” Cover, one of the brains behind the invention, named the Taser. (Cover is also a former chief scientist of North American Aerospace’s Apollo Moon Landing Program.)

As a boy, Cover loved reading a series of young adult novels about a character named Tom Swift. One of the books is called “Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle.”

Cover named the electroshock weapon after his childhood literary hero. (Do you know what “laser” stands for? Here’s the answer. What about “LASIK?” Here you go.)

Taser is actually not a word, but an acronym for a fictional weapon: Thomas A. Swift’s Electric Rifle.

Cover added the “A” to Tom Swift’s name. The original character did not have a middle name.

Victor Appleton is the author of the Tom Swift books. But Appleton himself was also a product of the imagination. He was a house pseudonym invented by the Stratemeyer Syndicate, a book-packaging firm. The actual authors consisted of half a dozen ghost writers.

The verb “to tase” was backformed from Taser.


  1. taser instructor -  March 19, 2014 - 6:59 pm

    They are not called “tags” they are called “AFID’s”. “Anti Felony Identification Device’s”

  2. Steve Tuttle -  July 10, 2012 - 2:00 pm

    The TASER acronym is correct.

    However, the photo shows a generic stun gun. You need to show a photo of a real TASER brand device.

    Also, there is NO verb “tased.” TASER is registered trademark (and the AP style book should know this). You can’t “bastardize” your trademark by using it as a verb.

    On a sidenote, Jack Cover passed away in February 2009. I had the honor of working with him when we started TASER International.

  3. K9Bear -  December 5, 2011 - 7:50 pm

    Getting tased is required in order to be certified to carry a taser in most police departments. I’m starting my 30th year in law enforcement in south Florida and feel that officers will more likely utilize a Taser appropriately if they have personal knowledge of its effectiveness. I would rather get beat than to ever get tased again. Most bad guys just give up than chance getting tased. Very effective tool in reducing injuries on both sides and saving suicidal individuals from hurting themselves or others.

  4. Francis -  April 15, 2011 - 5:40 pm

    LASER- Light amplification through stimulated emission of radiation.

  5. Judith -  January 27, 2011 - 4:28 pm

    In NYC, for a police officer to use a TASER or stungun, he/she must have been tased. Every male police officer who was tased: screamed, clutched his chest, and fell down; every female officer who was tased, silently clutched her chest and fell down. The mantra became: “TAKE IT LIKE A WOMAN”!

  6. SMM -  January 25, 2011 - 6:38 am

    Who would have guessed? That addition of the middle initial is of course cheating a little, but still…!

  7. Meg -  January 23, 2011 - 1:06 pm

    When my brother and i were in about third grade we found a bunch of old “Tom Swift” novels in our school library and read them. “Tom Swift” was a fairly badly written and stereotypical 40′s sci-fi series; in fact it’s where we get the phrase “swiftie” today, to denote a bad pun on an adverb, but the books were good for one thing–they came before today’s crazy world that i’m growing up in and from my standpoint they seem to be kind of innocent. It seems ironic and almost terrible that a weapon designed solely for causing horrible pain could be named after a simple series of innocent kid’s books from a more genteel–in some respects–if not necessarily less cruel, world.

  8. holycow -  January 22, 2011 - 4:07 pm

    cool… i want one

  9. Eyewitness -  January 22, 2011 - 3:33 pm

    I did not read all the responses, so this comment may be redundant. In differentiating the TASER from a Stun Gun, I have not noticed anyone included this additional information:

    When a TASER is fired at the target from a distance, the discharge also widely scatters minute, identical plastic chips called ‘tags.’ They are about the size of confetti. Each cartridge loaded into the TASER also carries a payload of these tags, as many as several hundred per shot. When even a single tag is recovered from the incident scene, it will provide an audit trail as to where the manufacturer fabricated that cartridge, where and when it was sold to a vendor, and who the consumer was who bought it. It makes use of a TASER vitually impossible to walk away from. The tags are as unique as a serial number on the shooter themselves. I am not aware of any grey- or black market TASER cartridges fabricated without this unique identifyer embedded in the product. The lesson is implicit: It is impossible to TASE someone anonymously.

  10. Fill -  January 22, 2011 - 9:12 am

    In some law enforcement agenciecies, such as the CHP, it is not required, but if you’re a man with any dignity you submit to getting tazed, like my brother did.

  11. bender's forge -  January 22, 2011 - 5:02 am

    at least they don’t have to be shot before qualifying to carry a sidearm!:)

  12. Ferret -  October 18, 2010 - 7:38 pm

    Waldo Pepper: Not only that, but some of them conflict with the other 90% of posts. Well, at least he got an answer.

  13. Alibia S. -  October 14, 2010 - 5:07 pm

    Wow, I had no idea, sooo cool! I want one!!!

  14. Jordan -  October 14, 2010 - 2:57 pm

    That was so cool!

  15. ms.karma -  October 13, 2010 - 10:40 pm

    i’d love to have a taser for self protection. i would carry it everytime i go out especially at night. but i guess no one’s allowing me to have one. :P

  16. Matt -  October 13, 2010 - 6:50 pm

    It is true that you have to be tazed. You also have to be shot, strangled, beaten with a club and on top of that watch CNN for seven days straight (without sleep, or food, or water, in a quiet room, preferably a cell) if you’re going to be a cop. I should know, because a father of a friend’s uncle told me.

  17. Waldo Pepper -  October 13, 2010 - 5:06 pm

    Well Nathan, you win. Here are 1001 responses to your question. Sheesh.

  18. Lefty -  October 13, 2010 - 4:41 pm

    I would love to own a taser!! That should be a must have now a days!!

  19. S8terchik -  October 13, 2010 - 3:47 pm

    This is so cul

  20. Jenny Le -  October 13, 2010 - 2:49 pm

    like lolz this is like coolz

  21. huhhuh -  October 13, 2010 - 2:47 pm

    what the hell is wrong with people this days, jesus, btw this has nothing to do with the article

  22. kipper -  October 13, 2010 - 2:45 pm

    Whatever happened to the guy who interrupted the political meeting at that auditiourum. He should be heralded as a hero and the Tea Party folks use him as their poster child.

  23. Rob -  October 13, 2010 - 2:13 pm

    Im a member of the U.S. Army and for my work I had to be Tased and Pepper Sprayed…..I’d take the taser any day!

  24. Buschman -  October 13, 2010 - 12:25 pm

    Man, by an extension of that logic, qualifying for a pistol has gotta be killer.

  25. Mark V -  October 13, 2010 - 10:22 am

    POLICE STATE COMING used Wall of Text…
    It’s TL;DR!

    I can’t recall if its Psychiatrists, or Psychologists that have to go through a psychiatric evaluation themselves before they can practise.

    just goes to show, several thousand volts and convincing someone their dreams mean they want to marry their own mother have equally devastating repurcussions.

  26. TASER | BLOGCHI@mayopia.com -  October 13, 2010 - 10:17 am

    [...] “THOMAS A. SWIFT’S ELECTRIC RIFLE” — That’s street wise electroshock cool. — Everybody might be crazy but take your meds instead, Fool. — The Sanchez Dude who was fired for calling Stewart a bigot — might have had his treatment shocked and it never closed his spigot. — They fired him for speaking out of a canon when Tasing would have been the proper vent — That’s one more idiot like us out of work — such a deal for the money spent. — The TASER is no weapon; — it’s the Sword of Damacles. — Herdin up the cattle and knocking us rabble to our knees. — When they bring out the fire hoses and use the taser guns — could be quite dramatic — the only thing missing are the singing nuns. –>>Rupert L.T.Rhyme [...]

  27. Banana211 -  October 13, 2010 - 10:15 am

    You know I never knew it meant anything! I thought a Taser was a Taser! WoW! You learn something new everday! COOL!

  28. GF -  October 13, 2010 - 9:52 am

    Police officers do indeed have to be tased in order to train with it, it is a part of the other officers’ training with the weapon themselves. This is not true, however, for pepper spray, which could cause long term retinal problems.

  29. #1 Skillet Fan -  October 13, 2010 - 9:02 am

    Tim Hawkins has a hilarious video Called “I’m no rock star” which mentions that he no longer spanks his children. Instead, he uses a TASER. Hmmm…….I wonder if that is really true of not LOL

  30. trigga -  October 13, 2010 - 8:59 am

    The tazer and pepper spray are just as worse as a gun my dad was killed by the police useing tazers and pepper spray

  31. trigga -  October 13, 2010 - 8:57 am

    The tazer is just as worse as a gun my dad was killed by the police with tazers

  32. pj -  October 13, 2010 - 8:31 am

    you do have to be tazed and sprayed to be a cop

  33. person -  October 13, 2010 - 8:29 am

    I heard that too. It makes sense, whether it’s true, because then they know what it feels like and will be more cautious when using either the taser or pepper spray.

  34. CoastieDoc -  October 13, 2010 - 8:24 am

    Well I can’t vouch for the tasing part, but I can verify that the Coast Guard at least makes it mandatory for our boarding team members to be pepper sprayed during initial training (that is one piece of Proof of Training that EVERYONE keeps several copies of…) BTW I recommend staying upwind if you ever observe a demonstration.

  35. Brian -  October 13, 2010 - 8:23 am

    @Nathan – It’s true! Today’s police training involves being tased in order to know how it feels/works. A State Trooper friend of mine has video from when he was a cadet being in the class where they did taser training. The biggest guy in the class dropped like a ton of bricks.

  36. Brandon -  October 13, 2010 - 8:03 am

    It’s true, I have some friends on the force who said they have to take a tase to use a taser.

  37. Joshua -  October 13, 2010 - 7:58 am

    It is true, I have worked with police and in order to weild a taser they need it have it used on them so they know what it feels like. Same goes with pepper spray. I think, but am not sure, that they do this to not abuse the power of using it. So they know what the person being tased is going through.

  38. FybrOptx -  October 13, 2010 - 7:57 am

    It’s true as far as I’ve seen. Local police here have to be tased as part of their “check” on the weapon. However, they are tased under controlled conditions where they are prevented from falling face first on concrete. At least they get a feel for what it’s like though!

  39. Officer Tom -  October 13, 2010 - 7:46 am

    I training, before being allowed to use a TASER or pepper spray we are subjected to both.

  40. Nathan, as well.. -  October 13, 2010 - 7:36 am

    Hey Nate, just FYI, being tased or pepper sprayed is totally true in police training. That way they know the extent of pain they’re delivering to a suspect.

  41. Ryan -  October 13, 2010 - 7:35 am

    Nathan, this is true. I have a friend who is a police officer. They are required to go through training and must be subjected to it before they’re even allowed to carry one (at least this is true where I am from.) That goes for both the taser and pepper spray.

  42. John -  October 13, 2010 - 7:32 am

    That is a stun gun in the photo not a tazer

  43. Van -  October 13, 2010 - 7:31 am

    Nathan, I have had friends in law enforcement, and being tased and sprayed are part of their training in Ohio, at least.

  44. Dc Loy -  October 13, 2010 - 7:19 am

    Thomas A. Swift’s Electric Rifle. Who would’ve guessed…

  45. Flootus -  October 13, 2010 - 7:19 am

    That is absolutely correct. Youtube has many examples of police training videos across the country in which they “Taze” each other as part of their training.

  46. george -  October 13, 2010 - 7:19 am

    it is true my uncle was a police officer

  47. taylor -  October 13, 2010 - 7:06 am

    it is true.

  48. Brett -  October 13, 2010 - 6:55 am

    it is true

  49. Jamie -  October 13, 2010 - 6:53 am

    this is very interesting, and i forget what laser stands for, its like light amplified *something* electromagnetic radiation, or what not lol.

    and for Nathan, i don’t think police have to be tased to use it but i believe the pepper spray is so that the know what its like if they accidentally get it in their eyes spraying a culprit, they have to be ale to still arrest him under its effects.

  50. Jade -  October 13, 2010 - 6:48 am

    I know that here in Connecticut – that is true. One of my good friends made police officer and he has a video of him being both tased and sprayed with the pepper spray.

  51. Jennifer -  October 13, 2010 - 6:32 am

    it’s true. they have to get tased and they have to get sprayed.

  52. Informer -  October 13, 2010 - 6:22 am

    Ha ha, I can promise you – that is not true.

  53. Jonathan -  October 13, 2010 - 6:07 am

    Good article-and actually accurate, unlike most articles on this device.

    Nathan, Police officers are required by some departments to be tased in order to carry a Taser, but not all. Where they are not required, it is still strongly recommended.

  54. Cj -  October 13, 2010 - 6:06 am

    Hey Nathan,
    Regarding whether law enforcement officers (LEO) are required to be tased: It depends on the department. In my midwest locale there are severak departments that serve the area – municipal, county, state, and university. I know for a fact that the county sherif’s deputies are required to experience being tased before they will be issued one to use. The municipal cops are given the option, and many of them volunteer to experience it. Regardless of whether they experience it themselves, they do get to see a “live” tasing in class to witness the effects.

    This was a great article – very interesting. I can’t wait to pass it along to my LEO friends!

  55. Heather -  October 13, 2010 - 5:51 am

    Interesting! I am grateful my husband (a LEO) has a non-lethal weapon to depend on before reaching for his firearm while on duty. Different police agencies have different policies regarding the LEO’s being tased/peppered. It is usually voluntary to be tased, but they will probably shame you into doing it.

  56. AMY-LOU -  October 13, 2010 - 5:45 am

    sorry I meant to put had to be not had to me.

  57. jim -  October 13, 2010 - 5:40 am

    if its true i hope they get gunned in order to use a gun ;) lol

  58. Bill -  October 13, 2010 - 5:38 am

    Cover relayed the story of how the TASER got its name when he demonstrated the product on the television show “That’s Incredible” in the early 1980s.

    It’s also worth noting that the stun/shock device shown in the illustration is not a TASER. The TASER is different from stun/shock devices which must be touched to their target. The TASER launches darts at the subject, which then deliver an electric shock through thin wires that connect them back to the TASER. That’s what made the TASER such a big deal, it delivers less-lethal force while providing law enforcement officers safer stand-off distance from violent or armed suspects.

  59. Kirk -  October 13, 2010 - 5:30 am

    Trust me….it’s true for both

  60. AMY-LOU -  October 13, 2010 - 5:00 am

    Nathan: Yes it’s true my dad is a cop and he had to me tased and sprayed in order to become one.

  61. diane -  October 13, 2010 - 1:29 am

    I hadn’t heard either story. I certainly did read a study in which a group of French law enforcement officers volunteered for exposure to capsaicin (pepper spray) in order to test an antidote for it.
    Tasers have to be safer than most alternatives – restraining agitated prisoners without such aids has a morbidity and possible mortality as well……………

  62. Kimberly -  October 13, 2010 - 1:25 am

    it is true nathan. in order to carry one it must be used on you. they have video at my last job showing officers being tased.

  63. Andy -  October 13, 2010 - 12:16 am

    It is true, police have to be tased and pepper sprayed in order to be certified. It is really helpful in court if an officer used deadly force on a person with a can of pepper spray.

  64. Cherry -  October 12, 2010 - 11:51 pm

    Nathan, they do that. My boyfriends brother ad to go through with it.

  65. alorah -  October 12, 2010 - 11:48 pm

    This kind of device is already a trademark used for a high-voltage stun gun. You can use it also to a person who has a bad intention to you…
    “especially” to some people we called as Rapist. If only I could have
    enough money I will buy it…

  66. Ryan -  October 12, 2010 - 11:05 pm

    I’m not sure about the taser being used on police. I would believe it though, because I have a buddy in the local police program and he had to get maced.

  67. ????fake email -  October 12, 2010 - 10:53 pm

    Actually a peace officer does have to get tased and pepper spraid for them to be able to use it. I am going through the academy and we will get peppered spraid and tased.

  68. Josh -  October 12, 2010 - 10:09 pm

    Usually the pepper spray is required in order to build a defence against getting pepper sprayed by someone they are trying to catch and losing that person for it. The taser is not the same case, sinc eyou can’t build an immunity to something like that by taking repeated zaps from it. It would probably have the opposite effect.

  69. Police State Coming -  October 12, 2010 - 10:04 pm

    Great idea to have these hot-words, very interesting… What’s even more interesting is the Government’s infiltration into OUR local county law-enforcement agencies. Just search for the “riot police at the G20″ and you’ll note that the majority of “peace officers,” were in fact not peaceful at all. You’ll also note that they more like MILITARY special OPs agents; body armor, gas masks, COVERED badge numbers, which is ILLEGAL btw. Anyhow… you bet your arse that the TASER (lethal in some cases) is nothing more than another toy that will be used against US, the citizens for any peaceful dissent.
    _”Free speech” zones??? HAHA, you’ve got to be kidding me; since when is “free” speech able to be CONTAINED? Who designates these “zones,” certainly NOT US the tax paying citizenry. WHO allowed the police to use DRACONIAN ELECTROCUTION SHOCK devices? Certainly NOT the citizens… Please search out those videos and you’ll see an increasingly disturbing trend of the militarization of OUR police force; remember, WE THE CITIZENS PAY THEIR SALARY! They are supposed to work for US, but that’s currently not the case so it seems… Search these terms for more military designed weapons that are currently being used against citizens, which then allows for the MILITARY to pay private weapons contractors to make these and even more invasive and dangerous weapons to then use in WAR TIME. That’s what the big game is about, military adoption for HUGE financial contracts… and WHO PAYS… YOU the VOTER!

    LRAD, G20, Council on Foreign relations, Bilderberg Group, Bohemian Grove, Carlyle Group, Trilateral Commission… the list of “secret” private organizations is ever increasing, ask yourself WHY? Just a friendly cabal of very wealthy/powerful people “hangin out” just like the avg guy/gal at the bar… No sir, these people don’t talk about Lebron James and who won what game over beer and pizza. They are talking about managing YOU their “serfs,” I’m sorry I mean “working class citizen…” You’ve been warned, carry on citizen…

  70. Allan Gabuya -  October 12, 2010 - 9:50 pm

    interesting story but if you have more interesting let me know so that I can it.

  71. My name is blah -  October 12, 2010 - 9:46 pm

    My brother told me that the taser is based on the phaser from Star Wars.

  72. Ryan -  October 12, 2010 - 9:30 pm

    Nathan, what you heard about taser’s and mace is correct. I am an Indiana State Police Officer and I do wield both a taser and mace: both of which I had to have used on me first. The state requires this in order for the officers to better judge the effectiveness of the weapons, plus help judge when to use them. I must say, getting tased was the worse physical pain I have ever felt in my life, but well worth the help that it has given me when subduing a suspect whom is resisting arrest.

  73. Samantha -  October 12, 2010 - 9:24 pm

    @ Nathan – it wouldn’t kill them if it is something they have to train on before being allowed to use it. The military police practice with it and have to be tased or pepper sprayed to get thru their training. I was in the Marine Corps and trained some with the MP’s – we did both. Both are incredibly painful, but they get thru it….I think it would be a great idea for the civilian police to understand how it works and what the suspect is going thru before being allowed to use it.

  74. Néstor Mtz -  October 12, 2010 - 8:21 pm

    That sounds reasonable Nathan, because I think the police need to know the possible reaction in a person and what´s better that yourself.

    I heard that some people get adiction to be “Tasered”

  75. emmie -  October 12, 2010 - 8:15 pm

    yes as strange as it sounds its true. i didnt believe it at first either till my cousin was getting trained to be a policeman. He got pepperspayed the first then tased a week later.

  76. Keda -  October 12, 2010 - 8:13 pm

    That is totally, 100% true. Police officers do need to be tased and pepper sprayed during training.

  77. Eion_Kilant_739 -  October 12, 2010 - 7:58 pm

    Wow, this is realy in formative.

    @ Nathan:

    It’s optional to get tased, you can turn the offer down.

  78. Efer maldonado -  October 12, 2010 - 7:26 pm

    i heard that if you get tase with the bigger taser,it will leave you on the ground for a hour and you have to use the bathroom before you get tase

  79. Seejay -  October 12, 2010 - 7:26 pm

    Maybe that’s why they like to dish it out at the slightest, least-tenable opportunity. They should be certified more often — MUCH more often.

  80. Thomas -  October 12, 2010 - 7:20 pm

    Very interesting! I had no idea its name had such a fantastic origin. That’s almost better than “Sousa”!

    Please don’t tase me or anything, but I’m pretty certain the weapon in the photograph there is actually a stun gun, which is sort of like the little brother of the taser.

    To use a stun gun you hold it in your hand and poke your intended target with it, so it only has an effective range of an arm’s length (is “gun”, then, a bit of a misnomer?).

    What makes the taser much scarier is that it’s more like an an actual gun (or futuristic electric rifle) in that it fires two electrodes through the air at the target, so you can zap someone who’s clear across the room (up to about 30′, I think). Yeek!

    Also, whereas a stun gun, I believe, just plain *hurts*, the taser actually disrupts your whole muscular nervous system, which makes it effective even against people who are in a state of increased pain tolerance (i.e.: they’re really drunk).

    Here’s a good taser picture:


    Thanks for the great article. I’m embarrassed I hadn’t thought to look the origin up sooner!

  81. Peter -  October 12, 2010 - 6:57 pm

    Nathan, I don’t know if that’s true about tasing or pepper spray, but I think it would be a good idea for waterboarding. If they still think it’s not torture after they experience it, they should be free to do it.

  82. Delaney -  October 12, 2010 - 6:25 pm

    to Nathen: It is true. We had a police officer come to our high school health class for ADAP and he showed us videos off of the police website of them being tasered and sprayed with pepper spray.

  83. Big Mommy -  October 12, 2010 - 6:19 pm

    Yes, it’s true. You were told correctly!

  84. diction aficionado -  October 12, 2010 - 6:06 pm

    I knew a former police officer and he said that he had to spray pepper spray in his eyes in case criminals used it, so he would know what to expect. I never heard him say anything about if he had to tase himself though. By the way, in Spanish aficionado means fan.

  85. Tom -  October 12, 2010 - 5:40 pm

    Don’t tase me bro!

  86. Nate -  October 12, 2010 - 5:27 pm

    my mom has a taser she just got a new one her older one was little but now this one is as big as 2 hands and yes she uses it …

  87. Thomas Pope -  October 12, 2010 - 5:23 pm

    Yes, Nathan, the rumor you heard is true. Part of the authorization for the use of these tools in law enforcement is to have them used on oneself before authorization. The reason behind this is to have the law enforcement agency member experience the full effect of the weapon to fully understand its uses.
    This also prevents and irresponsible use of these tools; do you want to have a cop use a taser but not know what it’s capable of?

  88. Max -  October 12, 2010 - 5:19 pm

    Yup! They do! I have friends in law enforcement. They have to be tased so they know how it feels. This knowledge (hopefully) will keep them from abusing it and tasing/spraying too many people who may not need it.

  89. Val Lee -  October 12, 2010 - 5:12 pm

    I believe it. My husband was in Corrections and he had to be sprayed with an even stronger spray, OC, and it was most irritating. Exposure can be determined by various state policies, no doubt.

  90. fdafdafs -  October 12, 2010 - 5:05 pm

    lol yahoo means this:
    (in Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels ) one of a race of brutes, having the form and all the vices of humans, who are subject to the Houyhnhnms.

  91. Alex -  October 12, 2010 - 5:05 pm

    yes it is true my dad is a cop and he had to do it.

  92. Myles -  October 12, 2010 - 5:04 pm

    Yeah, it is true. I once saw a documentary on police, and being tased was part of the ritual to come into law inforcement ;D

  93. aj -  October 12, 2010 - 4:00 pm

    Can i have one?

  94. Nathan -  October 12, 2010 - 4:00 pm

    I loved this. I heard, but not even sure if it’s true, that police have to be tased in order to actually use it. The same with the pepper spray. I don’t think it’s true, but who knows.


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