There's talk, predictably, of a civil war within the Lib Dems. Well, we all saw that coming. But the violent fate awaiting Clegg and his clan is just one example of a panoply of conflicts. A quick survey reveals a petrol pump price war, a Dragons' Den bidding war, a war over mackerel with Iceland, and the US-Mexico drug war. Why we're not all permanently living in underground bunkers, I have no idea.

As ever, we can heartily blame the media for diluting the definition. War is a neat dramatic shortcut. It's also an exceptionally short word, a thing beloved of headline writers. And it has, as the examples show, an impressive flexibility. Anyone, anything, anywhere can be at war - and immediately become a lot more exciting than, say, a minor disagreement over mackerel fishing rights in the North Sea.

But what about real wars?

I almost feel sorry for them. Imagine you're the Second World War, or the Vietnam war, or the Hundred Years War - major, history-sculpting conflicts that dominated entire centuries and caused the loss of millions of lives. You would, in a villainous sort of way, have rather a high opinion of yourself and your powers of worldly destruction. Yup, that's me, a bloody great war. And then you find out you're sharing your name with a petrol pump. It's humiliating.

Clearly, we need a new word for actual wars - the fighting, killing, destroying kind. We've done the same for cities as they've grown - renaming them megacities if they contain over ten million people, such as São Paulo, Mumbai and Tokyo. I'm not sure about megawar, though; it sounds like
a computer game. Superwar (as in supermarket) sounds much too much fun (and inappropriately demands an exclamation mark: superwar!).

Maxiwar sounds like a fashion item, something you might wear if pregnant, and angry. So I've settled on ultrawar. Yes, there's the vague echo of asanitary towel (Always Ultra), but, apart from that, I think it does the job nicely. And if it goes some way to restoring the pride of the Second World War and friends, then everyone's happy. Apart from the people in wars, that is.

Sophie Elmhirst is features editor of the New Statesman

This article first appeared in the 13 September 2010 issue of the New Statesman, France turns right