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Sep 1, 2003
This week's theme
Words with origins in war

This week's words
nom de guerre
casus belli

Previous week’s theme
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with Anu Garg

If you've ever wondered whether infantry has anything to do with infants you're not alone. In fact, it does. Literally speaking, infantry is made up of infants. The word infant here doesn't refer to the current sense of a baby but rather to the Italian form infante meaning a youth or a foot-soldier. It gets even more interesting as we travel further back. The word infant derives from Latin fari (to speak), so an infant is literally one who is unable to speak (yet). From being one who doesn't speak, to a foot-soldier, the word has come a long way. Who said words were boring?

(In legal terminology, the word infant still refers to a youth, anyone below the age of majority or a minor.)

In contrast to that word, there are many terms with origins in war that are now used in more general senses. This week we look at five of them.

nom de guerre

(nom deh GARE, rhymes with dare), plural noms de guerre Pronunciation

noun: An assumed name; pseudonym.

[From French, nom (name) + de (of) + guerre (war). A related term is guerrilla. Both derive from the same Indo-European root wers- (to confuse, to mix up), also the root of such words as worse, worst, and war. Now you know what a war really is!]

"Her eBay nom de guerre was Rawhamburger."
Anemona Hartocollis; A Woodworker Without White Gloves; The New York Times; Nov 3, 2002.

"Better known by his nom de guerre as Abu Al Abed, Al Bassoumi recalls in detail his childhood and the happy and sad events of that period."
Ibtisam Awadat; Tales of a Society Gone Under; The Star (Amman, Jordan); May 18, 2002.


If only I may grow: firmer, simpler, -- quieter, warmer. -Dag Hammarskjold, Secretary General of the United Nations, Nobel laureate (1905-1961)

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