Words associated with “fight”, “battle” or “war”

Fighting for the right words.

THE English language is awash with words and phrases that can be used figuratively or idiomatically. The figurative use is often in sharp contrast with the core meaning of the word.

Take the word “fight”, for instance.

Although the term “fighting fit” could be interpreted as meaning “fit enough to fight”, invariably it does not. It means that a person is in a state of good health, especially after being ill or in spite of being old.

The expression “fighting drunk”, however, can only refer to a person who has turned nasty and aggressive under the influence of alcohol.

If you “fight shy” of doing something, it means that you avoid or are unwilling to do the task in hand.

If you are “fighting” for your life, it means that you are gravely ill. If as a pilot you are “fighting” to control your aircraft, it means that you are doing everything you can to avoid disaster.

If you have a “fighting chance”, it means that you have a chance to survive or succeed, but your survival or success will usually involve a great deal of effort on your part.

If you are “fighting” to keep your job, it definitely does not mean that you are physically assaulting your colleagues or boss!

Other idiomatic uses of the word “fight” include

“spoiling for a fight”,

to “show fight”,

to “fight it out”,

to have “plenty of fight left”,

to “put up a good fight”,

to “fight to the finish” (or “fight to the death”), and

to “fight tooth and nail”.

Even terms such as “bare-knuckle fighter” and “dirty fighter” are used figuratively to describe aggressiveness in business or politics.

If you describe a debate or argument as a “knock-down drag-out fight”, you mean that it is very serious, emotional and angry. This is an American idiom and its origin is pugilistic in the extreme, referring to a type of boxing match in which a fighter who had been knocked down was dragged out of the ring and replaced by another contestant.

Now, we come to words that are associated with “battle

In a world where terrorism has replaced the traditional battlefield, it is perhaps unsurprising that “battle” and “battlefield” are words that are often used figuratively.

Battle-related idioms include

a “battle of wills (or of wits)”,

“a battle (or war) of nerves”,

“half the battle”,

“the battle lines are drawn”,

“locked in battle”,

“do battle (with)” and

“fight a losing battle”.

You can even “win a battle but lose a war”, which means that you get one of many results you want, but still fail to achieve the larger and more important aim.

Without capital letters a “battle of the bulge” would refer to attempts to lose weight and acquire a less protruding stomach.

Once capitalized, the “Battle of the Bulge” can only refer to the surprise German offensive in the Ardennes Forest region of southern Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany, in the final year of World War II.

The idiom “a running battle” comes from naval warfare, and refers to a battle that takes place between two hostile fleets while they are on the move, with one advancing and the other retreating.

Another naval practice now used idiomatically is “(to fire) a warning shot across the bows”.

The very instruments of war are also a fertile source of idiomatic usage.

You can “bombard” somebody with ideas and proposals even if those selfsame ideas “draw flak” from others.

You can “torpedo” someone else’s plans or conduct a “blitz” (from the German word Blitzkrieg, or “lightning war”) on something.

You can

drop a bombshell”,

put up a smokescreen” or be


You can walk through a “minefield” of hidden dangers, “shoot from the hip”, or find yourself unexpectedly “shot down in flames”.

As for guns,

you can come out with

“all guns blazing” or

“hold (or put) a gun to somebody’s head”.

You can prematurely “jump the gun” or

be “under the gun” (when people want you to succeed and will blame you if you fail).

You can “stick to your guns”, be “gunning” for somebody”, “bring up the heavy guns” or refer to the powers-that-be as the “big guns”.

You can be “going great guns”, even if your success involves trying to “spike” somebody else’s “guns”.

You can refer to somebody as a “loose cannon” if you consider the person to be volatile and unpredictable.

You can refuse “point-blank” to do something or tell somebody “point-blank” something (probably disagreeable) that has to be said.

You can be “in the firing line”, be “under fire” – or simply be fired!

You can “cross swords”, “be at daggers drawn” or simply “look daggers” at someone.

You can stab someone in the back, or,

as an alternative, fall on your own sword!

The idiom “double-edged sword” is used to say that a plan or achievement that someone hopes will bring them success might also harm them.

If people are “up in arms” about something, it means they are protesting angrily about the matter.

If someone has “been in the wars” it probably means they have faced a lot of problems, although it could also be humorously applied to someone who turns up at the office soaked to the skin and looking dishevelled.

A “tug of war” might refer to a disagreement between two opposing parties.

Lawyers are accustomed to verbal “duels” and conducting a “war of words” in the courtroom on a daily basis.

Wars always involve death and destruction, whereas a “war” against disease or famine is “fought” to alleviate human suffering and save lives.

As such, an idiomatic “war”, “battle” or “fight” is always preferable to the real thing.

Well, for most people it is


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