Spoiler (n.) is a very old term, but its usage referring to movie plots is quite recent:

  • 1530s, "one who robs or plunders," agent noun from spoil (v.)......meaning "information about the plot of a movie, etc., which might 'spoil' it for one who has not seen it" is attested by 1982. (Etymonline)

According to Wikipedia this usage can be found earlier, at least from the '70s:

  • One of the first print uses of the terms was in the April 1971 issue of National Lampoon. An article entitled "Spoilers," by Doug Kenney, lists spoilers for famous films and movies.

The advent and the growing popularity of the Internet has certainly contributed to the spread of its usage, especially with the expression Spoiler Alert:

  • The Usenet archives compiled on the Google Groups page reveals that nerds were bandying about the phrase as early as June 8 1982, when a commenter placed “(SPOILER ALERT)” before mentioning a detail about Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. The movie had been released just four days earlier, so he assumed many had not yet seen it.


Was the above mentioned usage of spoiler first used by Doug Kenny, or did he just employ an expression which was already in use at that time?

What term or expression was previously used, given that movies and TV series had become very popolar well before the '70s?

  • 4
    Shakespeare: "Two households, both alike in dignity,/ In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,/ From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,/ Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean./ From forth the fatal loins of these two foes/ A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life" Seriously, he gives away the ending on the sixth line!
    – cobaltduck
    Commented Apr 28, 2017 at 19:29
  • 1
    Gutenberg's dog.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Apr 28, 2017 at 19:32

2 Answers 2


The first use of "plot-spoiler", with reference to spoiling movie plots, appeared at least as early as 1920, in film's silent era:

"I just love the big organ at Ye Liberty," says Helen Chunx, "for when it plays I can't hear a word of what the plot-spoiler back of me has to say. But when the organ is temporarily incapacitated, I suffer intensely, because the piano is not strong enough to drown the voice of that poor fish which insists on telling the story of the picture in advance. But I beat him to it, one time. I put chewing-gum in my ears."

plot-spoiler, movies

The Honolulu Advertiser, 25 Jul 1920, Page 4 (paywalled link).

Use of 'spoiler' in the popular press with that specific reference and sense recurs with increasing frequency through the 1930s, 40s, 50s, and 60s.


My guess is that the phrase "spoil the story," which dates back as far as 1926, morphed into the contemporary term "spoiler."

Before we became saturated by a media landscape that threatens to subvert every element of surprise, people probably didn't need a single go-to word for "ruining the ending." Without VCRs, television spoilers were less likely to be a problem before the 1970's. And in the rare instances of movie spoilers, people were probably content to describe it as "ruining the ending" or "spoiling the story."

To tell you would be to ruin the story, and to ruin the ending would be sacriligious

Ngram shows some earlier use of the phrase "Spoil the ending." However, the earliest quote I can find on google is actually about Dickens's revision to the ending of *Great Expectations:

The dominant feeling about Dickens's revision can perhaps be summed up by George H. Ford's statement that Dickens "accepted Bulwer- Lytton's advice to spoil the ending of Great Expectations."

Interestingly, Ngram shows "spoil the story" much more frequently than "spoil the ending," "ruin the ending," or "ruin the story."

"Spoil the story" appears as far back as this 1926 edition of Overland Monthly and the Out West Magazine.

In the meantime the ever vigilant eye of Scotland Yard has been taking impressions from the beginning . . . but we do not wish to spoil the story. You will be thrillingly entertained from the first to the last page.

Now the remaining question is when did the act of "spoiling the story" become a "spoiler?"

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.