Concepts of Terror and Terrorism

  • Paul Wilkinson
Part of the Studies in Comparative Politics book series


What do we mean when we speak of terror? In its most important and general sense the term signifies a psychic state of great fear or dread. Our modern words terror, terrorise, terrible, terrorism, and deterrent, are derived from the Latin verbs terrere, to tremble or to cause to tremble, and deterrere, to frighten from. The word terror also came to mean the action or quality of causing dread and, alternatively, a person, object or force, inspiring dread. Etymologists claim that the English terms terrorism, terrorist, and terrorise did not come into use until the equivalent French words terrorisme, terroriste, terroriser had developed in the revolutionary period between 1793 and 1798. Edmund Burke declaimed, ‘Thousands of Hellhounds called Terrorists are let loose on the people.’ The term terrorist came into general use to denote those revolutionaries who sought to use terror systematically either to further their views or to govern whether in France or elsewhere.


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  1. 2.
    For a discussion of this evidence see Paul Radin’s useful book, The World of Primitive Man (New York: Grove Press, 1960) ch. 6 ff.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Government and Opposition 1974

Authors and Affiliations

  • Paul Wilkinson
    • 1
  1. 1.University CollegeCardiffUK

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