I never thought about this but perhaps Germans did not see it as a world war or preferred not to think of it as such. Or, maybe WW2 only became a popular term in most places after the war was over?

  • This question would benefit from preliminary research.
    – MCW
    Aug 17 '17 at 12:17
  • @MarkC.Wallace: The first time a word is used is no indication of popularity. I could have discovered the former but popularity and usage by country and the reasons for the usage are harder, Great Patriotic War I knew about but why they called it that, etc.?
    – Jeff
    Aug 17 '17 at 12:40

Surprisingly, the answer already exists on English.se:

OED says that the Manchester Guardian coined "World War No. 2" on 18 February 1919, "with reference to an imagined future war arising out of the social upheaval consequent upon the First World War (1914-18)."

Their next citation for "World War II" is Time Magazine on 11 September 1939.

So it seems that World War 2 (or variantly The Second World War) was always called by those names, at least in English speaking countries. The former seems the dominant usage in North America, and the second dominatn in the United Kingdom.

In Russia, the war has (I believe) always been called The Great Patriotic War, at least in regards to after the invasion of the Soviet Union by the Germans on June 22, 1941.

  • 1
    Interesting about 1919. I wonder then if Germany really disliked the term arguing that there was in fact no such war, only Germany attempting to regain territory or something.
    – Jeff
    Aug 16 '17 at 2:33
  • Some interesting ngrams for world war i and world war i,world war ii,first world war,second world war
    – user13123
    Aug 16 '17 at 3:54
  • But did they call the war "World War 2" the day Germany invaded Poland, like "now the second world war started." I suppose it took a while before they realised it was a world war. Aug 16 '17 at 4:56
  • @UlfTennfors: Read the fourth paragraph above - it took less than two weeks for Time magazine to coin the starting war as World War II. Aug 16 '17 at 4:58
  • 1
    @Jeff: A German officer, Lt. Col. Hermann Kriebel, told the Allies at Versailles in 1919, "See you again in 20 years." en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hermann_Kriebel He was "right on the money."
    – Tom Au
    Aug 22 '17 at 2:52

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