Does anyone have an idea of when the word "intelligence" was first used, in the context of espionage? Was it used in this context in (for instance) the 18th century?

  • 1
    Oooh good question.
    – Dan Bron
    May 2, 2015 at 19:55

1 Answer 1


According to Etymonline, the usage seems to pre-date the 1580s (assuming the agent noun came after the mass noun with the corresponding sense):

intelligencer (n.)

1580s, "spy, informant," agent noun from intelligence.

Meaning "bringer of news" is from 1630s; as a newspaper name from 1640s.

Indeed, Etymonline actually gives the 1580s as the time the 'military intelligence' sense originated. I'd assumed it didn't, as this now becomes general reference.

  • But OP isn't asking about the person, the spy, but the information gathered via espionage: the mass noun (aka the G2). Any clues as to when that sense evolved?
    – Dan Bron
    May 2, 2015 at 20:15
  • Read more carefully. May 2, 2015 at 20:17
  • 1
    I can only read carefully after you write carefully, Edwin. You changed your answer after I made my comment (which, I suppose, is a good thing: that's what comments on answers are supposed to encourage you to do!).
    – Dan Bron
    May 2, 2015 at 20:23
  • I added the parenthetical explanation for those not making the possible deduction '... the agent noun came after the mass noun with the corresponding sense' (which is an assumption, but I believe a fair one). I'd assumed that OP had checked Etymonline for 'intelligence'. Wrongly. May 2, 2015 at 20:28
  • Thanks. I had not heard of Etymonline until now. Appreciate it!
    – jkp1187
    May 4, 2015 at 13:59

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