I'm interested in finding the first use of the word "creative" when used in the sense of an advertisement's text, graphics, etc.

How can I research the first use of a word like this when it's so closely tied to the more common sense of the word?

  • 1
    OED will have a list of 'first mention' quotes under different senses. Nothing's guaranteed to be totally accurate; OED doesn't look at uttered instances. Apr 27, 2020 at 16:08
  • Are you asking for an answer about the word creative specifically or how to research words in general?
    – Laurel
    Apr 27, 2020 at 16:37
  • 2
    I’m voting to close this question because it's actually a question for Meta.
    – David M
    Apr 27, 2020 at 16:37
  • If it's not in the OED, you can search various places to see if someone has already investigated the origin of that specific meaning: various language blogs and columnists; academic papers; dictionaries of slang, jargon, and other specialised forms of English; (specifically for "creative") in the advertising industry trade press. Otherwise, get ready for a long slog through online archives.
    – Stuart F
    Dec 3, 2021 at 10:44

1 Answer 1


The place to look is in The Oxford English Dictionary, of which there are three editions:

The first two (published in 1933 and 1989) are available in paper and the third one (the most informative and reliable of the three) is available behind a paywall online, though if you can find a public or a university library that subscribes to the third edition, you can see it there free of charge.

Note that the earliest attestation for a word, an idiom, or a meaning is the earliest use of it that the compilers of the dictionary could find. The first known use is almost never the earliest use, which is most often impossible to ascertain.

Consequently, when you see careless writers say that according to The Oxford English Dictionary word X or meaning X arose in such and such a year, they have in all likelihood misunderstood. All the OED is saying is that its compilers could find no use older than the oldest one cited.

You can download this article on the subject free of charge:

"An Aspect of Lexicography Still Not Fully Professionalized: The Search for Antedatings and Postdatings (With Examples Mostly from English and Some from Other Languages" (in Revista Alicantina de Estudios Ingleses. no. 18, 2005, pp. 25-69). https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/de61/9dcdaa54ad6d819c7b59f62499974253672a.pdf

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