I have some questions:

  1. Why "star wars" and not "stars wars"?

  2. Is "star wars" equivalent to "wars of the stars"? In French it would be "les guerres des etoiles", what about the English version?

  3. If question 2 is true, why doesn't "world war" mean "war of the worlds"?

  • As an aside, "Star Wars" was originally titled "La Guerre des étoiles" in French. fr.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star_Wars
    – Elian
    Dec 24 '15 at 9:32
  • Thanks Elian. That's more related to the "wars", one or many. I think "la guerre des étoiles" would translate to "star war". It's the "stars" or "star" and "world" that interests me.
    – Kenny
    Dec 24 '15 at 9:54

Whenever there is a noun phrase that is made of up two nouns, the first one will always be the base form of the word. That is why we have "dog food" and not "dogs food" even though said "dog food" maybe used to feed more than one dog.

A noun phrase of two nouns holds that the right word is what holds key to the mean, except for noun phrase idioms.

Star Wars is interesting because it is comprised of multiple battles but only one war. Never the less, it is a type of war but occurs across planetary systems. Thus, "star" is a synecdoche to represent the whole of the universe. The word is therefore metaphorical.

  • Could you elaborate on ""star" is a synecdoche to represent the whole of the universe. The word is therefore metaphorical" ? Take "bus stop" and "world war" as example. What is the difference between them ?
    – Kenny
    Dec 24 '15 at 10:39
  • 4
    I don't think Star is meant to represent the whole of the universe. It's a more a description of where the war takes place - i.e., amongst the stars. Think of it more akin to "Tree Wars" being used to describe jungle warfare.
    – Webreaper
    Dec 24 '15 at 10:54
  • I agree with Webreaper on amongst the stars. Student fight: fight of/amongst the students.
    – Kenny
    Dec 24 '15 at 10:59
  • Yet we have not explained the difference between star war and world war. One is war amongst the stars (many stars), the other is amongst those within a single world.
    – Kenny
    Dec 24 '15 at 14:42
  • @Kenny: he did explain it. When you use a noun to modify another noun, it almost always takes the singular form. Consider horse race → race between horses (there have to be more than one to make it a race) and horse cart → a cart drawn by a horse (most horse carts are pulled by only one horse). You can't tell how many horses there are in a phrase horse <noun>. English is ambiguous this way. What star war actually means is a war having something to do with one or more stars. Dec 24 '15 at 15:21

If you compare Vietnam War with Korean War, you can notice there is one difference between them. Vietnam is a name of the country while Korean is an adjective relating to North or South Korea or its people or language. You don't call the war in Vietnam Vietnamese War because it is the way it is as the Ngram Viewer clearly shows.

However, both compound nouns carry the same characteristic. The two wars were fought by Vietnamese and Korean people respectively within the boundaries of each country even though they were supported by other countries such as the former USSR, China and the U.S., etc.

  1. Star Wars simply means multiple (more than two) wars among (fought by) stars. The compound noun is made in the same way as Vietnam war and Korean War. Then, why not starry war like Korean war? The word starry according to Online Oxford Dictionary doesn't have the right connotation as it means:

Full of or lit by stars, resembling a star in brightness or shape, or (informal) relating to stars in the world of entertainment

  1. The producers and director chose Star Wars as they can choose whatever they like with their artistic licence also known as poetic license. It is up to them to choose among Star Wars, Wars of Stars, Wars of the Stars and Starry Wars, etc. Therefore, your second question is not very meaningful, but I would say it is equivalent to Wars of Stars

  2. World War is compounded in the same way as Vietnam War or Korean War. The war was fought by many countries almost all over the world, not in one specific country. Then, why not Worldly War? Because people decided to call it World War and it was used by many people.

As explained in the other post, we can make compound nouns (or noun phrases) that include a noun modified by adjectives or noun adjuncts. And the noun adjuncts (first noun) are used as if they were an adjective. That's why only the second noun takes the plural form as in Star Wars.

You can visit the following Wikipedia link to learn more about compound nouns.

Edit: The noun adjuncts World and Vietnam can mean the places where the wars were fought. The World War was fought in many countries in the world. That's why it is called World War. The Vietnam War was fought in Vietnam. That's why it is called Vietnam War.

  • Interesting point regarding Vietnam war and Korean war. I have seen similar in several occasions. Yet I am rather intrigued by the relation star war and world war, not star war/starry war and world war/worldly war. As you mentioned, which is also my question, star war happens within many stars fighting. world war are those within a single world. Could you elaborate ?
    – Kenny
    Dec 24 '15 at 14:48
  • As I made it in bold above, the noun adjuncts (World, Vietnam) can mean the placse where the wars were fought. The World War was fought in many countries in the world. That's why it is called "World War". The Vietnam War was fought in Vietnam. That's why it is called "Vietnam War". I will edit the post using this comment.
    – user140086
    Dec 24 '15 at 14:50
  • Then what happen to star war, it does not fall into either category of Korean war nor world war : war happening in X.
    – Kenny
    Dec 24 '15 at 14:51
  • @Kenny Contrast a sleeping bag with a sleeping baby. English doesn't work in just one way. The former means a bag for your sleeping in a tent, the latter means a baby who is sleeping now. Smoking room vs. smoking dish.
    – user140086
    Dec 24 '15 at 14:53
  • Aren't we discussing noun+noun and not adjective+noun because we seem to have shifted to world war vs worldly war . I agree on this difference. But what intrigue me is that, following your reasoning, world war : place where it take place - the SINGLE world. star war : it happens in 1 star. I am interested in why star war refers to many stars and ww is 1 single world
    – Kenny
    Dec 28 '15 at 10:14

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