When was the word "terrorism" first used in the world? I did some research but, the internet gave me two answers. The first one said it was first used in 1794. But, the second one said it was first introduced in 1160. I want to know when was it first used in the world. Does anyone know when the word "terrorism" was first used?

  • 2
    Part of the problem is there's no set definition of it (as per wiki).
    – Wordster
    Oct 15 '18 at 20:26
  • 1
    Also, the 1160 reference was for "terrible," not "terrorism."
    – Wordster
    Oct 15 '18 at 20:27
  • 10
    @Wordster This isn't about terrorism, it's about the word "terrorism". You don't need a set definition in order to say when the word was first used. In any case, the English language wasn't around in the 1st-century AD.
    – Laurel
    Oct 15 '18 at 20:36
  • 2
    Good point as for practice vs. mere term. But the English lang. objection doesn't hold, since twice she says "in the world." Also, its first usage re the Jacobins: that was in FRENCH, but was it also at that time referred to as "terrorism" in English?
    – Wordster
    Oct 15 '18 at 20:44
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    @Wordster The fact that this is posted on ELU implies that the OP is looking for the first use of "terrorism" in English or its antecedent languages. Oct 15 '18 at 21:44

According to the OED, it was first used in 1795 or 1796, depending on what definition you look at.

The 1795 citation refers to the French Reign of Terror:

During the reign of terrorism, I was a close prisoner for eight long months.
Speech in Convention

The year 1796 is when it was first used in its general sense:

John Thelwall..pointed out the defects of all the ancient governments of Greece, Rome, Old France, &c.; and the causes of rebellion, insurrection, regeneration of governments, terrorism, massacres, or revolutionary murders.
The pursuits of literature

  • These information had helped me a lot
    – Annie Chen
    Oct 15 '18 at 20:51
  • 2
    I find it interesting that "terrorism" was basically formed the same way as capitalism or fascism -- a style of governance defined by, respectively, terror, the importance of capital, and the same (forced) unity as a bundle of sticks (a fascis). Of course it means something different today -- terrorists generally aren't a recognized state government -- but the etymology is interesting.
    – Nic
    Oct 15 '18 at 23:45
  • Since the question was "When was the word "terrorism" first used in the world?", one could accept the French form "terrorisme" and prepone the date by one year to January 1794 (Source). Apr 10 '19 at 13:49

I would add (from the usual suspect etymonline) that the first usage from 1795 meant specifically governmental terror,

terrorism (n.)

1795, in specific sense of "government intimidation during the Reign of Terror in France" (March 1793-July 1794), from French terrorisme, noted in English by 1795 as a coinage of the Revolution, from Latin terror "great fear, dread, alarm, panic; object of fear, cause of alarm; terrible news," from PIE root *tres- "to tremble" (see terrible).

while the general usage came from the Irish uprising in 1798.

General sense of "systematic use of terror as a policy" is first recorded in English 1798 (in reference to the Irish Rebellion of that year).


The concept goes back to the origin of states thousands of years ago. The specific word 'terrorism' instead of 'causing fear as a weapon of war at the state level' comes from the Jacobin period 'The Terror' of the 1790's, where the French 'terreur' (panic, fear) became the term 'terrorisme' (a state of panic/fear that references this period of time).

  • 3
    This is a really solid line of thought. Would be an even better answer if you could cite some authorities or reference works.
    – Dan Bron
    Oct 15 '18 at 20:41
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    But she already mentions 1794 in her question: she evidently thinks (?) that's not satisfactory.
    – Wordster
    Oct 15 '18 at 20:47
  • So the first time the word "terrorism was made was in 1790
    – Annie Chen
    Oct 15 '18 at 20:48
  • 2
    Citations added per @DanBron 's suggestion.
    – Carduus
    Oct 16 '18 at 14:39

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