Great War

Who first called it the Great War?  

In their The Great War in History (2005), Jay Winter and Antoine Prost say "They named it the Great War already in 1915."

So I felt rather pleased with myself when I was reading a copy of the Union Jack comic from the end of December 1914, and found an ad for next week's issue (January 2nd, 1915) including a facsimile picture of the cover  clearly using the phrase "The Great War" :

  Union Jack

Did this example from a comic, I wondered, mean that the term came from below, and was found in popular culture before it reached the kind of respectable text that Winter and Prost might have been looking at?

I was even more delighted with myself when I found an even earlier instance, an advertisement in The Nation for November 7th, 1914, headlined The Great War and announcing that "a class has been arranged for the study, from a philosophical and historical point of view, of  various aspects of the present war. Period to be studied 1870-1914."

But then I looked the phrase up in the OED and found that their earliest citation was for October 1914 in Maclean's Magazine: "Some wars name themselves… This is the Great War."

That's got my best example pipped by a month, but I shall keep looking.



  1. Posted May 16, 2006 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    I thought it was a generic term that carried over from the Napoloenic wars (which ended up being the previous Great War)? This probably exposes what a terrible historian I am in many ways so please, not too many brickbats if I’m completely wrong here…

  2. Posted May 16, 2006 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

    I think you’re right. The OED gives instances of it being used for the Napoleonic Wars – so it was probably a term that came naturally when people wanted words to apply to an even bigger conflict.

One Trackback/Pingback

  1. […] We finally break free of the Second World War, hoping to find happier timelines. Instead, we are witness to the misery of the American dustbowl in the 1930s. We are distressed to observe that Mr Gandhi’s powerful philosophy is being misrepresented; and regret the missed opportunity for a meeting of the minds between Mr Tagore and Mr Einstein. But at least the Powerpoint edition of the history of contraceptives relieves the gloom! We barely have time to wonder if the US government’s war on rats inspired noted thespian Mr James Cagney before a sudden gust of the time-winds sends us hurtling back past the Great War altogether and into another century … […]

Post a Comment

%d bloggers like this: