• Confrontational and quarrelsome; predisposed to fighting


It might seem ironic, but for some, waging war with the world is a means to survive. Parceling life into a series of battles is a way of creating structure, and always finding things to fight against can lead to a sense of purpose. If you're someone who's always ready to charge into battle, then hold on to your tricorn hat - you're about to be described as bellicose.

Bellicose is an adjective that characterizes people who are aggressive and prone to generating conflict. Those who are bellicose are constantly either involved in some kind of skirmish or looking to start one. Although the word does not specifically indicate the reason for this antagonism — it might imply a self-protective response, a desire to prove oneself, or even just simple, undefined anger — it frequently suggests a sense of passion and a volatile personality. The intense emotion of a bellicose mindset expresses itself through a willingness to pick a fight. But just because you're bellicose doesn't mean you're some kind of sociopath or warmonger. Some people just love a good donnybrook!

Example: The warmongering Genghis Kahn is perhaps one of the most bellicose figures of ancient history.

Example: Seemingly unaware of his small stature, the bellicose Yorkie barked aggressively at everyone he saw.

Example: The strongman resorted to bellicose and chauvinistic speeches to rally his base.


The origins of bellicose, which emerged in English in the early 15th century, are closely tied to war. The word is preceded by the Latin adjective bellicus, which describes things as being related to or stemming from warfare. This would evolve into the Latin bellicosus, which could mean either "aggressive and warlike" or "bold in battle or valiant."

Bellicus comes from the Latin bellum, which means “war” (think antebellum or postbellum from your history classes). Etymologists aren’t sure where this word or its Old Latin form, duellum, come from. Some suggest that duellum may be related to the root duelno-, meaning “very brave or commendable.” We do, however, know that bellicose isn’t the only aggressive scion of these words in modern English. Duellum is the ancestor of duel, while bellum gifted us both rebel and belligerent (which, like bellicose, means “aggressive and combative).

Derivative Words

Bellicosity: This noun refers to aggressiveness and a readiness to fight.

Example: As a child, Sarah's bellicosity got her into a number of scuffles at school.

Bellicosely: This adverb form of bellicose characterizes an action, adjective, or other adverb as being confrontational in nature or designed to start conflict.

Example: "Come at me, I dare you!" Sarah shouted bellicosely at her opponent during a round of her favorite game, Battleship.

In Literature

From Robert F. Kennedy's Thirteen Days: A Memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis:

During the missile crisis Kennedy courteously and consistently rejected the Joint Chiefs’ bellicose recommendations. “These brass hats have one great advantage in their favor,” he said. “If we…do what they want us to do, none of us will be alive later to tell them that they were wrong.”

Bellicose is used here to describe the warlike nature of John F. Kennedy's Joint Chiefs of Staff. Kennedy felt that taking hasty, bellicose military action would end in annihilation. Thankfully, the then-American President managed to skirt destruction.


  • Belt out a bellicose war chant

  • Bellicose is always close to war


War, Conflict, Aggression

Bring out the linguist in you! What is your own interpretation of bellicose. Did you use bellicose in a game? Provide an example sentence or a literary quote.