Book title question

I’m trying to come up with a suitable title for my latest novel.  I’m thinking of ‘War To The Knife’, which is a phrase I know from my youth (the Free Dictionary offers this definition of it).  However, Miss D. tells me she’s never heard the phrase before, and isn’t sure whether it’s widely known and/or used in the USA.  I can believe it’s more used in English-English than in American-English, but I just don’t know.

Therefore, here’s a question for my readers.  How many of you are familiar with that phrase and understand what it means?  If I were to use it as the title of a book, would it make sense to you?  If it would, I’ll use it;  but if not, I’ll try to find something more meaningful to my main market in the USA.

Thanks for your help.



  1. I like a title that makes me work for it. Not Yankee? No prob, I've got Google and I can always use a new term…..

  2. I'm a Yank. Never heard it. But the cadence reminded me of, "Fight to the death" and that seems to be the gist. I think it would be well received for being different.

  3. I'm a bit useless for fiction (as you know, Peter), but from a marketing perspective it seems that the book title is, well, marketing.

    I'm certain that there's an interesting story in this, because I know you. There's *always* an interesting story there.

    Other people who don't know you? I'm not sure that this would lead to more clicks, and more buys, and more (deserved) royalties.

    My $0.02 worth. Your mileage may vary, void where prohibited, do not remove tag under penalty of law.

  4. Like the previous commenter, I've never heard the expression outside of Ringo's work.

    That said, it's somewhat self-explanatory.

    After rolling it around my mouth, and my brain, a bit, I like it.

    To pick a title like this, I would say you have to trust your audience enough to take that little learning/thinking leap.

  5. I am familiar with the phrase, like several others, through the work of John Ringo.

    I do like it.

  6. …and knife to the hilt! I'm originally a Yank and recognize the phrase – so would most of my neighbors.

  7. Being English I'm more than familiar with it, after all it's a common idiom still in regular usage here.

    You started an internet wander though as I wondered about the etymology, and … I can't find a definitive one! Oh, there's General Castaños laconic reply to the French overtures of “Paz y capitulación” at Zaragoza of “Guerra y cuchillo” but …

    It's just too common a phrase, it has uses all over the place, up to and including the current Norwegian usage of the old Norse “krig på kniven”, so I need help! Any ideas?

    As to the title, I love it, as a phrase that elicits not only an emotional but a visceral response, but, in a different genre:

    does/will that make a difference?

  8. Seldom read fiction so unlikely to encounter in a bookstore / list. First time, to my knowledge, I have read the expression.

  9. It might be uncommon in American English, but the intent is clear "war taken to its final, personal extremity"

  10. AS a Vietnam, combat Marine, I've never heard of it. The sound and context of it reminded me of Deguello. BTW, google and you will find your term already used in a book title.

  11. …Knife to teh Hilt.

    Even as a 'Yank',I too am familiar with the phrase, and grok the intent/meaning.

    Once could argue that a modern 'Americanization' of the concept expressed would be to say 'Fix Bayonets!'.

    A declaration of: "If we're going in, we're going ALL in…and it's going to get messy…"

  12. Peter:

    Have never heard this is the US, but have from others from around the globe. Especially SOuth Africans and Sicilians.

    I wouldn't expect this to mean anything to an American english speaker. However, a suggestion: explain it in a Preface or Forward if you think that understanding will matter to the reader as he/she begins the book.


  13. I am a Yank, and as such I have never heard that phrase used in the US.

    However I spent five years in Saudi Arabia from ages 10-15 living with a lot of UK and South African families so that experience definitely left me familiar with the term.

  14. Texan and I've heard of it, mostly from reading about British, South African, and Aussie stuff. And reading the Kansas history book referred to above. I don't think there will be much problem with title overlap, though. The Kansas book is good, but probably not commonly found at Ye Local Bookseller (outside of Lawrence, Manhattan, Topeka, and Ossawatomie, that is).


  15. Peter

    I have heard the phrase before and know what it means. I first heard it (I think) it was in history class in high school (late 60s early 70s)describing a war between two Indian nations in what was the Western Reserve now Ohio. It is a good title that would work even better with a good cover.


  16. I heard it credited to Viscount Mountbatten as a Navel Officer in WWII, in my misspent youth in the 50s and 60s.
    Who notes the Brits kept him in uniform a bloody long time.

  17. I probably learned the phrase reading Niven and Pournelle's Lucifer's Hammer as a teenager growing up in the American Midwest. IIRC it was used in a sort of throwaway chapter heading (stuff happening in other parts of the world after the asteroid strike) about the continuation of the Arab-Israeli conflicts after the collapse of technological infrastructure. The meaning was clear from the context though never painfully spelled out. (Also a good way to absolutely ruin a joke!)

    Glad to hear you picked it as a title. I think that the phrase will intrigue those among the intended audience who are not familiar with the phrase, explanatory blurb or no. Those who will be repelled are unlikely to be interested anyway.

  18. I'm a Yank and have read of it, but in an American context, I believe it was used in reference to various Indian wars east of the Mississippi. Old enough usage that it may actually be "British colonial" rather than "American". It usage here may have mostly died out, but its intent is still perfectly understandable. Upvote++.

  19. Never heard the term before. Knew exactly what it meant as soon as I read it. Looking forward to your new book. Loved the Maxwell series.

  20. I've heard the expression before, undoubtedly read it in a novel somewhere! Sounds good as a title, very evocative.

  21. Peter,
    I have heard it applied to the American Civil war, in the sense of war to the last push of one's last resort weapon. Almost always with the second part of the phrase – "..and the knife to the hilt!"

  22. I knew immediately what was meant, but then my daughter tells people that I "rival Dennis Miller as the master of the obscure reference."

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