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    Capitalization: civil war (in specific, but non-American context)


    Capitalization: civil war (in specific, but non-American context)

    In the text I'm currently working on, I'm having trouble deciding whether to capitalize "civil war" in cases where it is referring to a specific civil war (the Spanish Civil War), but not to THE "Civil War," which for my American sensibilities refers the conflict in the United States that lasted from 1861-1865. Is this just an unfair American bias?

    This should be such a simple question, and it seems that if the American Civil War is referred to as the Civil War, then it makes sense to proceed this way in other cases, too, but it looks strange to me... What do other LEOs think?

    Here's an example sentence: "Franco at the victory celebration in Madrid following the end of the civil war in May 1939."

    And another: "Especially at the beginning of the Civil War, republican caricatures and texts..."

    Verfasser German Tarheel (EY) (147393) 08 Apr. 14, 14:24
    I would have instinctively capitalized it, and many reliable gurgle hits do, too :-)
    #1Verfasser Carly-AE (237428) 08 Apr. 14, 15:37
    Carly, it is clear to me that Spanish Civil War is capitalized when the modifier "Spanish" is used. But when "civil war" is subsequently used (in the book I'm translating) and the context makes it unnecessary to name the country, it looks strange to me...

    If I Google just "Civil War" the hits are almost all about the American Civil War.
    #2Verfasser German Tarheel (EY) (147393) 08 Apr. 14, 16:03
    OHHHH - That would look very strange to me, too, EY...did another quick gurgle search with "when civil war broke out in"...and most of the sites capitalized it when modified with a specific country, but not so otherwise.
    #3Verfasser Carly-AE (237428) 08 Apr. 14, 16:29
    I support your inclination to capitalize Civil War only when that is, in effect, a proper name, as it is for the Civil War in the US. So, lower case except for those civil wars that are known (locally? in English?) as our/the Civil War.
    #4Verfasser Jurist (US) (804041) 08 Apr. 14, 17:20
    I support your inclination to capitalize Civil War only when that is, in effect, a proper name, as it is for the Civil War in the US.

    I agree.
    #5VerfasserHappyWarrior (964133) 08 Apr. 14, 19:32
    Hmm -- that's a tricky one. I was at first going to say just call it 'the war,' since with Franco the context is pretty clear, but it's so close in time to WW2 that that could be misleading in some places. So I too agree that it should be 'the Spanish Civil War' for the first time or two and 'the civil war' lowercase thereafter. Just 'the Civil War' does indeed seem strange in English.

    However, in another context, isn't it also used for Cromwell? I remember finding that a little jolting at first, but it makes sense, when you think about it.

    I don't think G**gle is very relevant, by the way, because it won't let you do a case-sensitive search. It probably only gives you American hits first because it has stored so much information about you, and because the American Civil War is what the greatest number of users are likely to be looking for if they type in 'civil war.'
    #6Verfasser hm -- us (236141) 08 Apr. 14, 19:41
    hm, The reliable links I mentioned were practically ALL books, encyclopedias, and history websites...just didn't have time to post them all here...
    #7Verfasser Carly-AE (237428) 08 Apr. 14, 20:08
    Carly, I don't think anyone disagrees that 'Spanish Civil War' is capitalized. The question is just what if you don't have the word 'Spanish.'
    #8Verfasser hm -- us (236141) 08 Apr. 14, 21:06
    hm, I did a second search, and #7 was in reference to those hits. Capitalized if modified, otherwise lower case. Though this one, didn't do so consistently :-)

    Civil War broke out in England in August 1642 between Charles I and his Parliament.
    Fighting in 1642-1643 from Hampshire to Cornwall and in the north was indecisive with many inconclusive battles such as Edgehill, Newbury, Alton, and sieges at for example Bristol, Lyme, Basing House, Gloucester, but the entry of the Scots, negotiated by John Pym shortly before his death, into the English civil war in 1644 was a turning point.
    Charles master minded the second civil war in 1648 which led the politicized officers of the new Model Army to condemn him as a ‘man of blood’.
    #9Verfasser Carly-AE (237428) 08 Apr. 14, 23:17
    That one's obviously wrongly capitalized anyway. In the phrase 'civil war broke out,' it's a general description, answering the question 'What kind of (a) war?' (Answer: 'a civil war,' between citizens of the same country, as opposed to a world war, a war for conquest of territory, etc.)

    The capitalized version, in contrast, is correctly a proper noun answering the question 'Which named war in history?' (Answer: 'the Civil War,' as opposed to the War of 1812, the Hundred Years' War, etc.) So the other correct option would have been to say 'the Civil War [in England] began in August 1642.'
    #10Verfasser hm -- us (236141) 08 Apr. 14, 23:33
    That one's obviously wrongly capitalized anyway.
    I don't think so: it appears to come at the beginning of a sentence, that's all. If something preceded it, I would of course agree with you.

    re #6: isn't it [c/Civil w/War] also used for Cromwell? I remember finding that a little jolting at first, but it makes sense, when you think about it.
    Sorry, I find that quite amusing! Why does it only make sense if you think about it?

    To us "the Civil War", with capitals, is quite normal in the context of the English one, though it may also be written without capitals.

    If I were reading something about Spain I wouldn't be confused or distracted at all by seeing "the Civil War" capitalised. But then, understandably, our own civil war doesn't loom nearly as large in our consciousness as the American one does for Americans.
    #11VerfasserHecuba - UK (250280) 09 Apr. 14, 00:50
    Hecuba, are you sure you read correctly? The sentence that started 'Civil War [sic] broke out ...'? Of course 'civil' is capitalized as the first word in the sentence, but there's no reason to capitalize 'war' as well, because the article 'the,' which would make it the proper name of a particular war, is not in the sentence. 'The Civil War broke out' would of course have been correct, but in that sentence, there isn't any 'the.'

    More examples:

    civil war (= a state of armed conflict within one country)
    People are worried now that civil war may break out in Ukraine.
    The conflict started as a civil war and spread to neighboring countries.
    Abraham Lincoln was worried that civil war would tear the country apart.
    The conflict between Charles I and parliament soon led to civil war.


    the Civil War (= a particular conflict in [American or English] history)
    Abraham Lincoln was worried that the [American] Civil War would tear the country apart.
    The conflict between Charles I and the parliament soon led to the [English] Civil War.

    Of course at this point in my life I understand that each country's own civil war is the only one that matters to that country, the one that can be mentioned without an identifying nationality like American, English, or indeed Spanish. But back when we learned history in school, our own Civil War was the only one taught at all -- the one with Cromwell in England was far more distant and had much less influence on our own history, so that we only encountered it in a paragraph or two in passing, or perhaps in college in a more specialized context. And that's still sort of my mental default, so it's still a little surprising to me -- or, yes, amusing -- to come across the 'other' Civil War, even though I know what it is. (-:

    Never mind, none of that is very relevant here, since EY knows what she's doing anyway about the Spanish one. It's just that there are clear rules about capitalizing proper nouns in English, so I hated to leave confusing examples for any German learners reading along.
    #12Verfasser hm -- us (236141) 09 Apr. 14, 03:47
    Thanks for the feedback. I'm still not sure what I will do; I could ask the author, who's directly responsible for the translation, to ask the publisher. Or just pick one way to be consistent and leave the final decision up to the proofreader at the publisher!
    #13Verfasser German Tarheel (EY) (147393) 09 Apr. 14, 09:46
    #12 On the first point: sorry, you're quite right -- I somehow overlooked the capital W. Perhaps I shouldn't be posting at nearly midnight.
    #14VerfasserHecuba - UK (250280) 09 Apr. 14, 10:25
    I think you should look at other books or articles in English that have been published by reliable publishers on the topic and follow their lead. Go to a library of bookstore and browse the shelves, or in Google Books if you search for "Spanish Civil War" you at least get the books on the topic and can browse from there. You don't want to end up being the one book that does it differently.


    The JSTOR database is also good for scholarly articles if you have access through a university (the free preview is quite limited).
    #15VerfasserStrawberry (357492) 09 Apr. 14, 12:33
    Since I live in a German-speaking country, it would be the rare bookstore or library with a wide selection of books on the Spanish Civil War...
    #16Verfasser German Tarheel (EY) (147393) 09 Apr. 14, 13:55
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