"war with words" aka "paper war"?

Amy West medievalist at W-STS.COM
Mon Feb 3 14:24:43 UTC 2014

On 2/2/14 12:00 AM, Automatic digest processor wrote:
> Date:    Sat, 1 Feb 2014 12:45:49 -0500
> From:    "Joel S. Berson"<Berson at ATT.NET>
> Subject: Re: "war with words" aka "paper war"?
> At 2/1/2014 09:06 AM, Jonathan Lighter wrote:
>> >Yahoo! news headline:
>> >
>> >
>> >Magic Johnson calls off his needless, one-sided war with words with Lakers
>> >coach Mike D'Antoni.
>> >
>> >It's a kind of "war" that uses words as "weapons." The absurd "war of
>> >words," said by old people, means that the words "belong to" the war. Which
>> >is just so bogus and illogical.
> Even older people might say "paper war".  OED3 has a quotation from
> 1710, and the New-England Courant has one from 1721 Nov. 6, 3/2:
> "By the two following Paragraphs taken from different Prints from
> London, we find that the Experiment of inoculating the Small Pox is
> like to give the same Occasion of a Paper-War there, as it has lately
> given among our selves."
> Joel
"War with words" seems to parallel "duel with swords" or "duel with
pistols". There is an instrumentality sense of "with", and the object of
the war follows the second with.

Certainly, the more idiomatic construction is "war of words," but this
doesn't become so opaque to the readers as to be non-sensical.

---Amy West

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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