Etymology: The transition from "bellum" to "guerra/guerre", and how "bella" came to mean "beautiful"

Discussion in 'Etymology, History of languages, and Linguistics (EHL)' started by Abbassupreme, May 21, 2007.

  1. Abbassupreme

    Abbassupreme Senior Member

    California, U.S.
    United States, English, Persian
    How did Latin's "bellum", which I've deduced to mean "war", become "guerra" in Spanish and Italian and "guerre" in French and how did "bella" (which I'm assuming means "wars") come to mean "beautiful" in Spanish and Italian (and "belle" in French)?!
  2. Amatus Member

    UK English
    Bellum of course means 'war', but there was a word bellus that meant 'nice', 'pretty'. A bellus homo was a man who was probably seen as somewhat effeminate, who had his body hair plucked and the like. The expression occurs in one of the Latin poets. Also, Martial calls one Caecilianus' wild boar dish the latter's 'bellus conviva', his 'nice guest'.

    Guerre/guerra comes ultimately from Old High German werra, 'quarrel'.
  3. cajzl Senior Member

    "guerra" is a loan word from the Germanic languages, the English "war" is cognate. Similarly: ward -> guarda

    "bellus" is diminutive from bonus (arch. duenos/duonos) -> *benulus -> *benlus (syncope) -> bellus (assim. nl > ll)

    "bellum" (arch. duellum) x "bellus" is merely a coincidence
  4. Abbassupreme

    Abbassupreme Senior Member

    California, U.S.
    United States, English, Persian
    Thank you! :D
  5. Abbassupreme

    Abbassupreme Senior Member

    California, U.S.
    United States, English, Persian
    Wait . . . . . I'm confused. Diminutive . . . . ? What's benelus and benlus, and what does "arch." mean? Archaic? If so, when was this ARCHAIC form used?
  6. pacobabel Senior Member

    spain spanish
    "ben" is "e degree "of the same root of bon-us (is a typical arish phenomenon, you can also see this vocalic change in classical greek: lpo, le-loipa, but also in latin: mens, moneo); -lus/la is the diminutive morpheme in latin: auricula < auris, poenulus < poenus (the little punic man, as in Plautus' comedy).
    bellum (war) has the same root like greek polemos.
    As always, sorry because of my english
  7. cajzl Senior Member

    Duenos (with non-syllabic u), then duonos, are archaic forms of bonus, they are known from Old Latin inscriptions.

    The archaic diminutive of duenos would be *duenolos, hence the hypothetical forms (with asterix) *benulus and *benlus, finally the classical form bellus, bella, bellum. Nothing in common with bellum (war), which has the archaic form duellum.
  8. tvdxer Senior Member

    Minnesota, U.S.A.
    Minnesota, U.S.A. - English
    "Guerra" is from a Germanic source rather than Latin. In other words, it shares the same etymology as English war. Here is the RAE entry:

    (Del germ. *werra, pelea, discordia; cf. a. al. ant. wërra, neerl. medio warre).

    As for "bella", it comes from Latin bellus which had a similar meaning to the modern Romance words.
  9. DrLindenbrock Senior Member

    Italy; Italian & Am. English
    Hi everybody!
    Just to answer the question of how and why the word "bellum" was eventually replaced by "guerra" or "guerre", I've often read that it could be because "bellum" described the kind of war the Roman Legions were used to, i.e. very "neat" and "orderly" (try to see what I mean...;):)) combat between two armies, largely based on tactics and strategy.
    Once the so-called barbarians started attacking the Roman Empire, wars became more like small but continuos clashes or even just ambushes, so "bellum" no longer provided a good explanation of this, and the Germanic word took its place.
    I know this has nothing to do with linguistics strictu sensu :)D) but I remember it giving me a good explanation the day I asked myself the question Abbassupreme now posted.:)
    Perhaps if we are good and don't elaborate too much about this (at least in this thread) the mods will let us keep this post... :)
    Enjoy posting!
  10. vince Senior Member

    Los Angeles, CA
    Is a cognate of "war" still used in German?
    It seems that most other Germanic languages use a word that sounds like "krig" to refer to "war".

    Is "war" related to Slavic "vojna"?

    Perhaps bellus being related to bonus might explain why "elle est bonne" "está buena" means that a woman is attractive. And also explains why "bonita" (a diminuitive of buena / boa ) means beautiful
  11. cajzl Senior Member

    On the other side bellus chiefly means good in Latin.

    bellum est sua vitia nosse = it's a good thing to know one's own faults
  12. Reigh Senior Member

    Germany, Frankfurt
    German, Germany
    No, "war" in German today is "Krieg" and as far as I know it's "oorlog" in Dutch, so there seems to be nothing left of "werra" and I can't think of a word sounding alike in my dialect.
  13. mcc7x Member

    EEUU English
    According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the following German words are derived from the same root as the reconstructed Frankish word *werra (which gave rise to the English and Romance languages words for "war"):

    • :) verwịrren transitives (auch intransitives) Verb "to confuse"
    • :) Wịrren Plural "turmoil"
    • :) Wịrrwarr der; Wịrrwarrs "chaos", (von Stimmen) "clamour"

    I had also thought that the following words might have to do with *werra as well, but apparently they came from a different root (Proto-Germanic *waraz), which gave rise to the English words wary, aware and beware.

    • :cross:wehren reflexives Verb "to defend oneself"
    • :cross:Wehr, Wehren: sich [gegen jmdn./etw.] zur Wehr setzen "to make a stand [against sb./sth.]";
    • :cross:Wehrmacht: "defence force" or more literally "defence-power"

    Though the semantic (and phonetic!) similarity is interesting, scholars derive these words from a different root (*werra versus*waraz). Still, *werra is derived from a Proto-Germanic *werso, and *waraz is derived from a Proto Indo-European base *wer- meaning "to cover", so there might be some relation yet! We'd better leave such determinations up to the PhD's, though!!

  14. ravivararo New Member


    In Tamil, a Dravidian Languages, the following similar cognates are available.

    பாழி¹ pāḻi, n. Fight, battle; போர். பாழி கொள்ளு மேமத்தானும் (தொல். பொ. 72).

    பொலம்¹ polam, n. Beauty, fairness; அழகு. (திவா.) பொலந்தேர்ப் பொறைய (பதிற்றுப். 84, 6)

    வராகம்² varākam, n. Battle; போர். (யாழ். அக.).
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 29, 2009
  15. BP. Senior Member

    Ah the headphones script!

    Anyway we have in Urdu and Hindi this word bhalaa (pronounced somewhat like bella, if the aspirated b is too much to imagine) that means good, nice, even beautiful. But Urdu has almost supplanted it by khuub.
  16. Eremon New Member

    I remember Joseph W Campbell saying that "war" and all those variants actually derive from a Gallic (Celtic) war god named "Gorra". That would predate all the references I've seen so far. His name is retained in the Irish expression "Begorra". This is a very interesting thread and I thank all the participants.
  17. Eremon New Member

    Yes indeed. But Campbell's point was that all of those words were derived from the name of a god, whose name incorporated all of those meanings. The Celtic influence on Greek and Latin would have started before the time of Homer. Consider the linguistic correlation between the Saxon War God "Tiw" (as in "Tuesday") and "Zeus" and "Tiw-pitar" (Jupiter) as well as with "duality" and "deity". All of this is rather nebulous of course and is a part of prehistory, not history. That field - Nostratics - is somewhat obscure but my research and that of my colleagues is reaching back many thousands of years. I know that may sound silly, but if a paleontologist can derive an entire dinosaur from one leg bone, the same can be done with words - with numerous mistakes along the way. The process we use derives from that of the first modern philologists: Grimm's Law. I mention this merely to point out the wild and wonderful aspects of word study. While some of us are (too) serious about these matters, many others regard it as great fun. Thank you for your reply!!!
  18. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    See also this related thread.
  19. Fred-Rick New Member

    My first time on this site, and much impressed with subject matters and the fun to be had. So interesting to see the name of the god of war Tiw that gave us Tuesday, because the word now makes sense to me as going back to the number two. And yes, I had always wondered where the word Bellum could come from, but with seeing variations shown here of the root, I can recognize the word duel which we still use today. I know that di- and bi- are both versions of number two and reading duellum (duo) into buellum into bellum is then easy.

    War does not necessarily need two sides, as we know from modern times, but I guess in its original form war is that situation where two clash (and not one or three). Fun therefore to see that the god of war that gave us Tuesday has that same visualization.

    The German word Krieg is close to the Dutch word krijg, and a warrior in Dutch is also krijger. The verb in Dutch, however, means to get. And I would imagine that the visualization is then similar to outcome, or something as "And the spoils go to..."

    I now also see how my own native word oorlog comes from that word war or guerre, with the 'gw' not pronounced. Though I do not yet see the log-part. Who knows, it may be a very old version of the -ly ending we have in English and -lich in German, and originally been warly which then next became its own noun.

    From Tamil the pol- beginning is fascinating, because it stimulates my mind to see polar as coming from that same origin as well, thinking about an opposite position. The word bi-polar would then using its own root in some kind of fashion twice.

    It makes me curious what the word for two is in Tamil and, BelligerentPacifist, what it is in Urdu.
  20. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    There is no indication that duellum and duo should be etymologically related. You shouldn't take it for granted.
  21. Fred-Rick New Member

    Let me start out apologizing, Bernd. I know that I have a manner of writing that is assertive, personally-rightful to a fault, and often contains words that can put people off. It is not my intention to do that, but it is tough to change and in my writing years I have improved myself, but not perfected the son of a gun. I hope you can read through my toughness of words and will regard my words as mine — not as stating the truth for everyone alive (or dead for that matter).

    In my views, it is not too difficult to envision what our ancestors had in mind when deciding what words to use. But what it requires for me -to accept a correlation- is that a visualization is possible that fits in the background for at least two somewhat similarly-sounding words, and when the visualization fits in the background for similar words from several languages, then I embrace it even more. I then envision the ancestors of the words to be older than when the background visualization fits only two or a few words.

    It is not that I will hold on to the correlation when other evidence shows the word are not related (bella, bellum), but I will hold on to the seemingly strong correlation when nothing else is presented. In the case of your reply, I noticed you did not bring in any argument why duel and duo were not related. You may be right, but please bring in information that shows a different background exists indeed for each word. Right now, I believe to be correct. Prove me wrong, and you have a friend forever.
  22. terredepomme Senior Member

    Human Language
    From duellum, on the other hand, derives the word duel(French and later English), which have been long mistaken from having derived from duo.
  23. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    The etymology of duellum is unclear. Experience tells us that assuming etymological connections based on mere similarity is ofter a treacherous guide. For words like duellum without any obvious cognates in other IE languages it is practically impossible to reconstruct an origin. I am not saying they aren't related. I am only warning you not to jump to conclusions. Etymological research relies on a system of cross-checks to discriminate between chance similarities and true connections. Imagine you didn't have the information that Classical Latin bellum is derived from Old Latin duellum. Then you would probably now been speculating about a relationship between bellum and bellus (beautiful). All very dangerous.
    It is much more prudent to take the opposite stance: Don't assume a relation unless you have some means of cross-checking.
    Last edited: Aug 12, 2011
  24. terredepomme Senior Member

    Human Language
    Dictionnaire latin français(1934) suggests the etymology with the PIE dāu-, deu- (« destroy, burn »), from which also derives ancient Greek duē(« misery, suffering »).
  25. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    Yes, thank you. I am aware of that (reproduced here). I find this equally speculative, but it demonstrates nicely that there are equally or even more plausible alternative explanations.
  26. Fred-Rick New Member

    Let me add another two cents here (maybe my last on this forum), how it is very interesting that in French the words beau and belle mean the same thing, yet are quite distinct. One is male and the other the female version of beautiful (handsome/pretty). Since both are distinct, it may be prudent to look for a distinct difference in feel as well. I like seeking words that remain linked to the statement of war, and refering to the German word Krieg for war and the Dutch word krijger for warrior, the link there was that they refer to 'to get', 'to obtain', or in war terms: to get the spoils.

    Now if we use the winner and that what is won to the words beau and belle, then the feel may be explained. In modern eyes, that may a bit sexist, but then again in French there is a distinction, too.

    Further, would it be pushing the envelope to declare that the word beau is related to bon, bueno, buon, which means good, and next that this (particularly buon) is similar to the Germanic word won? While the word belle (as in bellum) is known in a context of war, it would also suggest that the one who won is the one who is the good one. Would makes sense to me to not declare the loser the good one, particularly when the winner gets to rule you.
  27. terredepomme Senior Member

    Human Language
    Beau/belle are the same word with a different declension, Fred-rick. You can say that a male is a belle personne. Also "a beautiful man" is un bel homme, where "bel" has no phonetical difference from "belle." And these two "words" both decent from bellus/bella. Although bellus/bella itself was a diminutif of bonus/bona it is not exclusive to bellus, obviously.
    I think your speculations are not that plausible.
  28. aruniyan Senior Member


    The Tamil word for Two is "IranDu",

    About the words discussed here,

    Tamil word for
    War = POr

    Similar words

    Spear=VEl = War could have some connection with "War"?

    Won = Venru
  29. IngridP

    IngridP New Member

    Well, I had the same question and when you think warriors were considered the definition of beautiful (for men), it now makes sense. war > warrior > beautiful (man) > beautiful (woman)
    guerre > guerrier > beau > belle
  30. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    Bell-us/-a/-um (=beau/belle) were merged phonetically with bellum (=guerre) already in classical Latin. It is quite clear that bellum (=guerre) is derived from earlier duellum. The etymology of bell-us/-a/-um (=beau/belle) beyond classical Latin is unclear. Romance guerra/guerre is derived from Germanic war- (as in English war and German Wirre) and has nothing to do with any of the classical Latin words.
  31. fdb Senior Member

    Cambridge, UK
    French (France)
    de Vaan, Etym. dict. of Latin and the other Italic languages (2008) writes:

    “The best etymology for duellum so far has been proposed by Pinault 1987, who posits a dim[inutive] *duenelo- to bonus. If *duenelo- meant ‘quite good, quite brave’, its use in the context of war (bella acta, bella gesta) could be understood as a euphemism, ultimately yielding a meaning ‘action of valour, war’ for the noun bellum.”

    If correct, this would mean that bellum ‘war’ and bellus ‘good, beautiful’ are in fact etymologically connected.
  32. Penyafort

    Penyafort Senior Member

    Catalan (Catalonia), Spanish (Spain)
    It obviously must have been an early loanword, already present in Vulgar Latin, eventually replacing any derivatives from BELLUM.

    I guess the fact that it might have been coincidental with derivatives from BELLUS is not that important, as the same thing happened with other words too. Besides, central Romances used BELLUS for beautiful (French BEAU, Italian BELLO, Catalan BELL), but peripheral Romances preferred FORMOSUS (Ibero-Romance FERMOSO, Romanian FRUMOS), the use of bello in Spanish being a later thing.

    Curiously though, modern Spanish in Spain and Catalan see hermoso and bell as somewhat literary, and tend to prefer derivatives from BONUS for 'beautiful' (Sp. bonito, Ct. bonic) in the spoken language.
  33. shivagreg New Member

    American English
    So, my question is: Why is there no word "guerrulous"? Would seem logical, and completely natural, to me. . .

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