Terrorism is not simply a modern phenomenon. Rather, the word, along with terrorist, first appears in English in the late 18th century in reference to the Jacobins of France. They ruled France in what was called the Reign of Terror from 1793-94. The word is thought to have been coined by the Jacobins themselves. If they did, they are one of the few to have used it self-referentially as the term has always had negative connotations. From the Annual Register of 1795:
It would...renew the reign of terrorism.
And a use of terrorist from the same source:
The terrorists, as they were justly denominated, from the cruel and impolitic maxim of keeping the people in implicit subjection by a merciless severity.
Both of the above citations are used to refer to the Jacobins. By 1798, the term was being applied generally to anyone who attempted to achieve political goals through violence and intimidation. From Thomas Mathias’s 1798 poem The Pursuits of Literature:
The causes of rebellion, insurrection,...terrorism, massacres, and revolutionary murders.
(Source: Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition)
Copyright 1997-2014, by David Wilton