1. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Is it "War" or "war"?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Link the Writer, Dec 2, 2010.

    I'm reading a mystery book set in 1879 called Silver Lies and this passage made me confused with the grammar usage of the word "war".

    In the passage, Inez (the detective of the story) discovers that her companion had lost the knife he had kept since the Civil War.

    "Oh Abe, not your knife. You've carried that since the War."

    Is it appropriate to capitalize the word "war" if you're referencing to a specific war?

    Also, and this may be me confusing myself, does "War" usually reference the last big conflict?
     
  2. Halcyon
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    Halcyon Contributing Member Contributor

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    War?

    What is it good for? :)
     
  3. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    it's only capitalized when part of the 'name' of a specific one... used on its own, it isn't...

    and 'war' alone or even 'the war' can't be assumed to be any particular one... there have been far too many in the past and even being waged in the present, to expect your readers to know which one you're referring to, without being more specific...
     
  4. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Or have at least mentioned what the war in question was in an earlier scene...

    Yeah, it does make sense. If you make it clear what war it was, then all future references to "the war" would have the readers go: "Oh yeah, it was xyz."
     
  5. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    If you are writing about a specific war the readers will know. Like if someone was living during a war referred to a war you would know.

    Just like I know if people of a certain age refer to 'the war' they mean WW2
     
  6. Michael Daaboul
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    Michael Daaboul Member

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    I asked this question when I was doing a course in grammar as an elective in uni and that's the same response I got.
     
  7. Peerie Pict
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    Peerie Pict Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes, my boss is very strict about this in legal drafting. If you're referring to something specific it will be capitalised. For example if you name a company i.e. "White & Black Ltd" you would write something like "hereinafter named 'the Company'". The same goes for referencing a war. You identify The Iraq War and thereafter say "the War".

    I think the same goes for things like the Police, the Government, the Treasury etc etc.
     
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  8. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    in legalese, if so specified by a 'hereinafter...' notice, but that does not apply to fiction... don't confuse folks by confusing the two...
     
  9. Peerie Pict
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    Peerie Pict Contributing Member Contributor

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    I didn't think people would actually think they need to put in 'hereinafter' in fiction but thanks for clearing that up.
     
  10. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think you capitalise "Civil War" because it's a proper noun. Normally, "war" is just a noun, but in this case it's used as a name for a specific war, i.e, a proper noun.

    Similar example: "a red baron" isn't capitalised, but "the Red Baron" is, since it is a name for a specific person (a famous WW1 fighter pilot).

    In the passage Link is quoting, it sounds like "the War" is, somewhat unconventionally, used as a name for a specific war.
     
  11. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    I think so too.

    Whenever I see war capitalized like that, I think of World War II. But that could be because of that recent Kent Burns documentary on World War II.
     
  12. SRCroft
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    SRCroft Member

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    It's actually a good question to ask in a sense, because it comes up a lot. If you read "The Open Boat" by Stephen Crane for instance, there is a character who remains unnamed except for being called the correspondent. The author chooses to keep it lower case to keep up the anonymity of the character, but in other works I have read authors capitalize a consistent description as if it is a name. Since it's all you know the person by, it can be capitalized, once it's established. Same as your question, when you establish you are only talking about the Civil War, not the act, you could shorten it to the War.

    So it seems like it's context, target, and motive or the writer. You can fake importance in fiction as well, I've seen a few horror writers use caps on short name-like descriptions, not necessarily the name of the being.
     
  13. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    Heh, now I'm just thinking of, like, Terry Pratchett books where "War" is a character occasionally. :p

    I think this is one of those things were there is a lot of confusion because it's one of those big concepts that people will often capitalise just because, I dunno, the weight of it? Especially in older writing, there's a tendency to capitalise many such words. As someone who spends a lot of time reading older texts, I have to stop myself doing it all the time kind of just as extra emphasis in my sentences...
     
  14. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I went back and checked my history notes. In assignments we used the same as the legal documents. If we were replacing the proper noun of the American Civil War, Great War, World War II, English Civil War etc then you capitalise it as the War.

    It follows the same rule as mum and dad/Mum and Dad. When you are replacing the proper noun you capitalise. When you are speaking generally you don't.
     
  15. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    no, it doesn't... not at all...

    because the rule for mom/dad is that they're only capitalized when used instead of a name and they're never written with a capital if an article or a personal pronoun is placed in front of it, which makes it only a noun and not a name... thus:

    "I'm only an ordinary mom," Mom said, with a sigh.

    Her mom told her to be wary of strange men.

    The detective concluded it was the dad who'd done the foul deed.

    "Please, Mom, can't I go?" she whined.

    and

    The king was in his countinghouse counting out his money.

    King Harold was a wealthy man.

    The Korean War was labelled a police action. But the war cost just as many lives, no matter what they called it.
     
  16. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Which is what I said (names were proper nouns when I was at school). Your example would work if you had used The Korean War was labelled as a police action. The war was labelled as a police action. (if used later in a text about The Korean War it would be understandable which war you meant).
     
  17. Whyte.rhose
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    Whyte.rhose New Member

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    It's like the word "mum."
    Mum has to be capitalised if it's by itself.
    But when you say MY mum, it has to be a lowercase.
    You know?
    So, if there is something before "war" and it referring to a certain type, you need to make sure to put a capital letter before both words.
     
  18. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    I don't think that's how it works.

    "mom" is generic, it could be anyone's mother.

    However, if "mom" refers to a specific mother, then it's "Mom".
     
  19. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    As others have said, "war" is usually lower case unless it's part of a proper noun phrase such as "World War Two" (or the Terry Pratchett character "War"). But it's a stylistic device available to the writer to capitalise it, in which case it will convey the idea that amongst all the wars in the past and present, this refers to one war that dominates everybody's thinking. This was the big one that changed everything. If you can imagine a dialog like:
    "He's carried the knife since the war."
    "Which war?"
    "The war!"
    "Oh, that one."
    Then the writer could reasonably choose to capitalise it. The name of the war is understood. In the UK through the 50s, 60s and 70s we could write of "the War" and everybody would understand that meant World War II. It was effectively a proper noun in its own right. That probably wouldn't have worked in the USA because it would have been too ambiguous between WWII and Vietnam.
     
  20. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    not really, in re the 'war' and the 'mom/dad' issue, which you claimed followed the same rule...

    as i pointed out, they don't, since 'mom' or 'dad' on its own is often used as a person's name [proper noun... and yes, they were that when i went to school, too, so there's no need to be snide], while 'war' on its own remains a common noun grammatically [though a writer may choose to make it a proper one stylistically ]...

    but if you're in the mood to keep arguing the point, i've no time for it, so am now hors de combat...
     
  21. SRCroft
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    SRCroft Member

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    Cultural

    Actually in the U.S. when someone says, "The War", they are usually denoting their connection and stating it is the important war (to them). So usually their "age" is the context to supply the meaning. Old retirement age gentleman, WWII, etc. The controversy over this mode of usage has made it into many, many sitcoms from the habit that was developed in aging vets.

    If you're writing fiction it your call. Vernacular is cultural in dialogue, and when you capitalize it would show inflection. e.g. "...you know the War!"

    If I was writing non-fiction (historical more than biography), I would write it properly following the proper normal noun rules.

    Rules like that, in terms of writing fiction, are different. You have dialogue, context and intention. I am reminded of Pirates of the Caribbean:

    Barbosa: "...the code is more what you'd call "guidelines" than actual rules."
     
  22. MetalRenard
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    MetalRenard Member

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    In my experience, like most of you agree, "War" refers to a specific well known "war".
    World War I, World War II both have capital letters (though the latter is more often refered to as "the War").
    To bring that closer to the context, I think, imho, that in a story, if a war is a defining part of the character's history or of the place they live in, then "War" applies.
     

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