Monday, September 2, 2013

Word of the Week - Operative

Leave it to Roseanna to browse through the dictionary for fun on the weekend. ;-) Sunday as I was beginning to think about the Word of the Week, I popped over to and accidentally bumped the O section. Then thought, "Sure, go with it" and browsed through a few pages. Randomly clicked on page 11 and soon was learning something. =)

Operative as an adjective is from the 15th century, meaning "producing the intended effect." The weakened sense of "important" (i.e., "challenge being the operative word in the speech") is very new, from 1955. But it's the noun version that intrigued me. =)

Since 1809 operative has meant "worker; one who operates." Sure. No problem. But obviously the more interesting is its meaning of "spy." I'd never looked up this one before, but it's so right up my alley that I'm kinda surprised I hadn't, LOL. This meaning came about around 1930, directly from the Pinkerton Agency. They would refer to their detectives as "operatives," and since much of their work was undercover--spying--it was soon applied to any secret agent. Fun, eh?


  1. Oh yes, very fun! Do you feel like an operative when you're writing your stories?


  2. Mmh :-| Today is Labor Day in the U.S., so I find the word in its 1809 sense more appropriate then the Pinkerton example, given, especially, their infamous anti-worker background.

    1. It is indeed, a holiday inspired after those disastrous labor strikes. Though I've studied the Pinkertons in eras before and after that and found them to be a pretty cool organization. Very sad they have that awful mark against them, but Allan Pinkerton's vision was a revolutionary one that provided most of the intelligence during the Civil War, and they were one of the first agencies to embrace women in detective work. Must give them credit for that, LOL!