According to some dictionaries, usage examples of the verb "launch" include "launch an attack", "launch a campaign", and "launch an investigation", where the thing being "launched" is some sort of activity. But then there is this sentence from NYTimes:

New York City has launched a new plan to rescue moderate-rent apartment buildings that were swept up by private equity firms during the financial boom, then left to deteriorate as they drifted toward foreclosure when the new owners were unable to repay their loans.

A "plan" is not really an activity. So, could the usage in that NYTimes article be an error missed by the editor?


The launch here is less executing and more releasing (or, in this usage, announcing). This is the same launch used in "product launch date"

An example of the usage can be found here by AutoExpress:

The engine is the fifth EcoBoost engine. The range was launched with a 3.5-litre V6 EcoBoost in 2009. Ford added the 2.0-litre EcoBoost in 2010; the 1.6-litre EcoBoost in 2011; and last year the three-cylinder 1.0-litre EcoBoost was launched.

  • So, it is technical jargon? – meatie Oct 2 '14 at 5:01
  • It's less technical jargon and more a different meaning of the word. – Raestloz Oct 2 '14 at 7:39

"Launching a ship" is the classic example of launching something. It literally means to start out on a venture, or push something out into the ocean. The original poster's examples are using "launch" in a metaphorical sense -- they implicitly compare "an attack", "a campaign", "an investigation", and "a plan" to a ship that has been prepared to go to sea, and is now starting out.

The New York Times article would have been clearer if it had said "launched a new program". The article implies that the funding for the program has been approved, and that developers are already lined up to implement the program.

"Announcing a plan" is similar to "launching a trial balloon". If relevant decision makers like the proposal, the plan may go into effect. If the proposal "does not go over well" or "goes over like a lead balloon", the plan is unlikely to go into effect.

(A "lead balloon" is a hypothetical balloon made out of lead instead of fabric or rubber. Lead is a dense metal, so an ordinary-sized balloon made out of lead will fall to the ground. On the other hand, the MythBusters television show has successfully made a huge, thin lead balloon that did float in air.)

  • So, if I have a plan to do something, it would be wrong to write "launch the plan" instead of "execute the plan" or "implement the plan"? – meatie Oct 3 '14 at 4:44
  • If you are executing the plan or implementing the plan, it is best to say so. On the other hand, it is not incorrect to say "launch the plan". But it does leave some ambiguity as to whether you are launching a publicity campaign to get the plan approved, or actually starting to implement the plan. – Jasper Oct 3 '14 at 4:50
  • Does "launch" has the sense "cause something to be in effect"? Would "launch a new law" be good English? – meatie Oct 3 '14 at 4:56
  • In American English, the only common usage of "launching a new law" is the "ObamaCare launch". That is an example of both a dreadful law and an incompetent product launch. I don't recommend having a "law" as the object of "launch". On the other hand, you can launch a project or a program or a ship, whose details or funding were provided by a law. – Jasper Oct 3 '14 at 5:08

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