or World War Three (III) [wurld wawr three] or [duhb-uh l-yoo duhb-uh l-yoo three]
What does WW3 mean?
WW3 stands for World War Three, a hypothetical, catastrophic global conflict.
- Great War
- nuclear annihilation
- World War II
- World War 4
- World War Z
Examples of WW3
Where does WW3 come from?
Before the rise of Nazism in the 1930s, journalists and politicians discussed a second global war as World War II after the Great War, retroactively named World War I (1914–18). The term World War II (1939–1945) was mentioned in a speculative article as early as 1919 in the UK’s Manchester Guardian. President Franklin Roosevelt formally called the Nazi assault on Europe World War II in 1941, helping to cement the term.
Considerations of a possible World War III, often shortened to WW3 in the 1990s–2000s, emerged before the US even entered World War II. Time magazine used the term World War III in 1941 before Pearl Harbor was bombed. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill started actively planning for World War III while World War II was still ongoing. These World War III‘s feared that World War II would end without an utter defeat of Germany.
Use of WW3 ramped up after World War II when the Cold War (1947–1991) between the US and Soviet Union threatened nuclear annihilation, often referred to as World War III.
Since then, many have imagined a WW3 to invoke possible global conflicts on the scale of the first and second World Wars. In geopolitics, the term has been especially used in reference to a conflict with Iran and North Korea amid their efforts to develop nuclear weapons. Showdowns between the US and China, the world’s leading superpowers, have also been cast as WW3 in the 2000s.
Who uses WW3?
WW3 is often imagined as the world being on the brink of nuclear annihilation, wiping out humanity once and for all. Some experts, however, have argued that the Cold War or War on Terror already constitute a WW3.
In contemporary political commentary, many cite WW3 to criticize a politician’s foreign policy, a common example in the late 2010s including “President Trump’s tweets will start WW3.”
In colloquial speech and writing, WW3 is often humorously used as hyperbolic reaction to a small annoyance (e.g., If he breaks my pencil one more time, I’m gonna start WW3.).
In popular media, WW3 is often used for dramatic effect, providing plots, backdrops, or various tropes in action movies and political thrillers. The 2011 film X-Men: First Class, for instance, features a villain working engineering the Cuban Missile Crisis in hopes of inciting WW3. Other works of fiction imagine future World Wars (e.g., World War 7).
This is not meant to be a formal definition of WW3 like most terms we define on Dictionary.com, but is rather an informal word summary that hopefully touches upon the key aspects of the meaning and usage of WW3 that will help our users expand their word mastery.