I saw Luis Vives made the claim that "bellum" is derived from "bellua":

Truly fighting belongs neither to good men nor to thieves, nor to any that are men at all, but is a right bestial fury and therefore it was named Bellum from bellua a beast.

Erasmus, his friend, mentions "grammarians" who think so (though he himself does not share this view).

Other sources prefer the other direction. (i.e bellua from bellum).

Yet, I could not find any modern source that suggests this relation. Based on our knowledge today, can we rule this supposition out with high degree of certainty?


Michiel de Vaan, in his 2008 Etymological Dictionary of Latin and the other Italic Languages, doesn't even mention a possible connection, so it's safe to say a link isn't considered plausible in either connection by modern etymologists.

For bēlua he notes that some have been prompted by the similarity in meaning to bēstia to posit a preform *bēslVwa for both, and that since words for 'animal' can be derived from 'to breathe' (cf. Gm. *diusa- 'animal' < PIE *dʰus- 'to breathe'), some have proposed bēlua < PIE *dʰwes-lo-, but this is problematic as initial *dʰw- should have yielded Latin f-, as was already noted by Pokorny in 1959. Meiser explains the b- as a consequence of word-internal sandhi, but nothing points to the word having been part of a compound. De Vaan's ultimate conclusion is that the etymologies of bēlua and bēstia are uncertain.

As for bellum, it's well-known that the older form was the disyllabic duellum, and De Vaan follows Pinault 1987 in positing a diminutive *duenelo- of bonus < Very Old Latin duenos, with its semantic development from 'quite good, quite brave' into 'action of valour, war' being understood as euphemism. Also perhaps notable here is that the change dwe- > bo- may require that the following l be an l exilis, which is the case in duellum (geminated l is always l exilis), but not in bēlua, which has an l pinguis (but also, as you note, a variant form bēllua, so...); it may not.

So, conclusion: there are still unanswered questions when it comes to the etymologies of all of these words, but bēlua and bellum sharing a common origin or being derived one from the other isn't even on the radar anymore.

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