cold war

Claim for coinage of cold war is disputed. It was probably coined independently by both George Orwell and by journalist and speechwriter Herbert Bayard Swope. It is often ascribed to columnist Walter Lippmann, who did not coin it, but was instrumental in popularizing the term.

Prize for first published use goes to George Orwell who used it in a 19 October 1945 article in the Tribune:

A State which was...in a permanent state of “cold war” with its neighbours.

But it was Swope’s independent coinage that inspired others to use the term. Swope used the phrase in a draft speech for Bernard Baruch in 1946. Baruch omitted the phrase from the final draft of the 1946 speech, but did use it in a 1947 speech in Columbia, South Carolina:

Let us not be deceived—today we are in the midst of a cold war.1

Baruch repeated the phrase in 1948 Senate testimony and it was picked up and used by Lippmann. Lippmann later stated that he was familiar with a French phrase, la guerre froide, from the 1930s.

Swope recounts his coinage of the term in a 10 May 1950 letter to Lippmann:

The first time the idea of the cold war came to me was probably in ‘39 or ‘40 when America was talking about a “shooting” war. I had never heard that sort of qualification. To me “shooting” war was like saying death murder—rather tautologous, verbose and redundant.

I thought the proper opposite of the so-called hot war was cold war, and I used that adjective in the early ‘40s in some letters I wrote, before our war.

I may have been subconsciously affected by the term cold pogrom which was being used to describe the attitude of the Nazis toward the Jews in the middle ‘30s. I never heard the French expression to which you refer.2


1Oxford English Dictionary, cold, a., 2nd Edition, 1989, Oxford University Press, accessed 25 Dec 2008 <http://dictionary.oed.com/cgi/entry/50043687>.

2William Safire, Safire’s New Political Dictionary (New York: Random House, 1993), 135-36.

Powered by ExpressionEngine
Copyright 1997-2014, by David Wilton