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world war

a war that involves most of the principal nations of the world.
Origin of world war
1910-15 Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2016.
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Word Origin and History for world war

attested by 1898 as a speculation.

If through fear of entangling alliances the United States should return the Philippines to Spain, Mr. Page asserted that the predatory nations would swoop down upon them and a world war would result. ["New York Times," Dec. 16, 1898]
Applied to the first one almost as soon as it began in 1914 ("England has Thrown Lot with France in World War" -- headline, "Pittsburgh Press," Aug. 2, 1914). World War I coined 1939, replacing Great War as the most common name for it; First World War, World War II, and Second World War all also are from 1939.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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