Wordsworth --- the Meaning of War

Joseph Gallagher

February 20, 1991|By Joseph Gallagher

The engulfing Gulf War has propelled many ancient and basic words into the headlines. War is from an old root meaning strife and confusion; it is aptly related to the words ''worse'' and ''worst.'' Peace is connected with ''pact,'' a binding together that parties agree upon. Gulf, water that swells like a bubble into a land area, is from the Greek word ''kolpos'' meaning a bulging like a bosom.

Bomb is from the Greek ''bombos'' and means a buzzing or booming. Gun derives from a word for strike or hurt. A little ball or ballette is a bullet. A plane wanders like a planet over a level plane of air. An army bears arms and armor, items which ''fit together'' with the bearer, the way the arms of your body fit together with your shoulder and hands. An armistice is a stopping (sto) of arms, as a solstice is a stopping of the sun.

Tank was originally a British code name for a vehicle resembling a motor oil container. Sorties are ''departures,'' from the French ''sortir.'' Missile is from the Latin word for a sending.

Ordnance is weaponry kept in good order and repair. Strategy is from the Greek word for a general. A soldier was so-called because he was paid with a Roman coin called a ''solidus,'' solid cash, unlike the sale (''sal'') which was part of his ''salary.''

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