late Old English wyrre, werre "large-scale military conflict," from Old North French werre "war" (Old French guerre "difficulty, dispute; hostility; fight, combat, war;" Modern French guerre), from Frankish *werra, from Proto-Germanic *werz-a- (source also of Old Saxon werran, Old High German werran, German verwirren "to confuse, perplex"), from PIE *wers- (1) "to confuse, mix up". Cognates suggest the original sense was "to bring into confusion."
Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian guerra also are from Germanic; Romanic peoples turned to Germanic for a "war" word possibly to avoid Latin bellum (see bellicose) because its form tended to merge with bello- "beautiful." There was no common Germanic word for "war" at the dawn of historical times. Old English had many poetic words for "war" (wig, guð, heaðo, hild, all common in personal names), but the usual one to translate Latin bellum was gewin "struggle, strife" (related to win (v.)).
First record of war-time is late 14c. Warpath (1775) originally is in reference to North American Indians, as are war-whoop (1761), war-paint (1826), and war-dance (1757). War crime is attested from 1906 (in Oppenheim's "International Law"). War chest is attested from 1901; now usually figurative. War games translates German Kriegspiel (see kriegspiel).
The causes of war are always falsely represented ; its honour is dishonest and its glory meretricious, but the challenge to spiritual endurance, the intense sharpening of all the senses, the vitalising consciousness of common peril for a common end, remain to allure those boys and girls who have just reached the age when love and friendship and adventure call more persistently than at any later time. The glamour may be the mere delirium of fever, which as soon as war is over dies out and shows itself for the will-o'-the-wisp that it is, but while it lasts no emotion known to man seems as yet to have quite the compelling power of this enlarged vitality. [Vera Brittain, "Testament of Youth"]
The world will never have lasting peace so long as men reserve for war the finest human qualities. [John Foster Dulles, Speech on the Marshall Plan, 1948]
updated on March 09, 2021