The word antebellum is used by historians to describe a period prior to a conflict, often the Civil War or the World Wars. This is from the Latin phrase ante bellum, which literally meant "before the war". Ante comes from Proto-Indo-European hent, which kind of meant "forward" (a reasonable connection to "before") but earlier meant "forehead" or "face" (a reasonable connection to "forward"). Meanwhile, bellum (the antecedent of bellicose, through bellicus, "of war") was modified from duellum (which, yes, is also the etymon of duel). Duellum, like ante and most other Latin words, also derives from Proto-Indo-European, in this case the reconstructed root dehw, which meant "to injure" or "destroy", or something like that. So, in a way, together, antebellum, far from preceding war, actually means "forehead destruction". What fun!
Adam Aleksic is a 220-month-old, 2800-ounce high school senior with disturbing interests in etymology, vexillology, geography, board games, limericks, and law. Adam will be studying linguistics at Harvard University in the fall.
The Etymology Nerd