I already know how to use the Ngram to check the frequency,
And how to use the use the date ranges with Google books to find old usage of a word in medieval books.

But how to check the first use of an English word for instance (I'm mainly interested for English, but I'd like to check in other languages too eventually)

Would a website exist for this use? How to search that?


1 Answer 1


They made a movie of it. Look it up in the Oxford English Dictionary (available online through a library near you). This would give the first published instance, not spoken instance. Also it covers modern English: some words are attested in Old English (the OED will tell you). It's not guaranteed that they actually caught every first instance, but nothing is more right than the OED.

For other languages, somebody will have to do the hard work, or it may have been done. The Perseus Project may have Greek and Latin adequately covered.

  • 2
    Sven Yargs over at ELU frequently improves on the OED's dates. And yet that's pretty useless for a "first use"; text can only prove "at the latest" and even then the meaning is often subject to interpretation. I'm getting tired of this. If it was simple, relative to how useful it would be, wiktionary would index dates. But they don't. Guess why (they aren't allowed to copy dates wholesale)
    – vectory
    Commented Nov 7, 2019 at 2:34
  • 4
    @vectory If you have a better/more reliable source than the OED, feel free to post it as an answer. "It's not 100% perfect" doesn't mean "it's not useful", especially when it's quite literally the most authoritative source out there in the majority of cases.
    – Draconis
    Commented Nov 7, 2019 at 3:33

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