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World War One

March 14, 2014

I’ve just heard Mr Jeremy Vine on the radio, talking about a forthcoming programme to commemorate the centenary of the First World War, and he referred to that conflict, not once but twice, as World War One.

The First World War was, originally, called the Great War. And then the 1939-1945 war came along, which was even worse (in terms of total casualties including civilians, though not, in fact, in terms of purely military casualties), and so, for British speakers of English, the two wars became known as The First and Second World Wars. But not for Americans. In the US the wars have always been called World War I and World War II, as though they were movies and the second was a sequel to the first. I wonder why Jeremy Vine adopted this Americanism? Probably he wasn’t even aware he was doing so. 

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