early 14c., "actually existing, having physical existence (not imaginary);" mid-15c., "relating to things" (especially property), from Old French reel "real, actual," from Late Latin realis "actual," in Medieval Latin "belonging to the thing itself," from Latin res "property, goods, matter, thing, affair," which de Vaan traces to a PIE *Hreh-i- "wealth, goods," source also of Sanskrit rayim, rayah "property, goods," Avestan raii-i- "wealth."
The meaning "genuine" is recorded from 1550s; the sense of "unaffected, no-nonsense" is from 1847. Real estate, the exact term, "land, including what is naturally or artificially on or in it" is recorded from 1660s, but as far back as Middle English real was used in law in reference to immovable property, paired with, and distinguished from, personal. The noun phrase real time is from early 19c. in logic and philosophy, from 1953 as an adjectival phrase in reference to "the actual time during which an event or process occurs," with the rise of computer processes. Get real, usually an interjection, was U.S. college slang in 1960s, reaching wide popularity c. 1987. As a noun, the real, "that which actually exists," by 1818 (Coleridge). The real thing "the genuine article" is by 1818.
Real applies to that which certainly exists, as opposed to that which is imaginary or feigned : as, real cause for alarm ; a real occurrence ; a real person, and not a ghost or a shadow ; real sorrow. Actual applies to that which is brought to be or to pass, as opposed to that which is possible, probable, conceivable, approximate, estimated, or guessed at. [Century Dictionary]
Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand. [Margery Williams, "The Velveteen Rabbit"]
c. 1300, properte, "nature, quality, distinctive character always present in an individual or class," later "possession, land or goods owned, things subject to ownership" (early 14c., but this sense is rare before 17c.), from an Anglo-French modification of Old French proprete, "individuality, peculiarity; property" (12c., Modern French propreté) and directly from Latin proprietatem (nominative proprietas) "ownership, a property, propriety, quality," literally "special character" (a loan-translation of Greek idioma), noun of quality from proprius "one's own, special" (see proper). Compare propriety, which is another form of the same French word.
For "possessions, private property" Middle English sometimes used proper goods. Hot property "sensation, a success" is from 1947 in stories in Billboard magazine.
"small silver coin and money of account in Spain and Spanish America," 1580s, from Spanish real, noun use of real (adj.) "regal," from Latin regalis "regal" (see regal). Especially in reference to the real de plata, which circulated in the U.S. till c. 1850 and in Mexico until 1897. The same word was used in Middle English in reference to various coins, from Old French real, a cognate of the Spanish word.
The old system of reckoning by shillings and pence is continued by retail dealers generally; and will continue, as long as the Spanish coins remain in circulation. [Bartlett, "Dictionary of Americanisms," 1848]
He adds that, due to different exchange rates of metal to paper money in the different states, the Spanish money had varying names from place to place. The Spanish real of one-eighth of a dollar or 12 and a half cents was a ninepence in New England, one shilling in New York, elevenpence or a levy in Pennsylvania, "and in many of the Southern States, a bit." The half-real was in New York a sixpence, in New England a fourpence, in Pennsylvania a fip, in the South a picayune.
1660s, "real estate, real property," from earlier meaning "a real possession" (1540s), earlier still "reality" (mid-15c.), from Old French realite, realte, from Medieval Latin realitatem (nominative realitas), from Late Latin realis "actual" (see real (adj.)). The notion behind the word is the immobility, or the fixed, permanent nature of certain kinds of property, especially landed. Also compare reality.
mid-15c. (from late 13c. in Anglo-French), "property which a woman brings to her husband at marriage," from Old French doaire "dower, dowry, gift" (see dowry). In modern legal use, "portion of a late husband's real property allowed to a widow for her life." Meaning "one's portion of natural gifts" is from late 14c.
1540s, "quality of being real, objective reality," from French réalité and directly from Medieval Latin realitatem (nominative realitas), from Late Latin realis (see real (adj.)). Also compare realty, which was the older form of the word in the sense of "reality" (mid-15c.).
Meaning "real existence, what is real, the aggregate of all that is real" is from 1640s; that of "the real state (of something)" is from 1680s. Sometimes 17c.-18c. it also meant "sincerity." Reality-based is attested from 1960, in marriage counseling. Reality television is attested from 1991.
1916, "real estate agent," American English, as though an agent noun from realty, coined by real estate agent Charles N. Chadbourn of Minneapolis, Minn., to distinguish the legitimate section of the business; popularized 1920s; patented as Realtor by the National Association of Real Estate Boards.
The 1916 Convention of the National Association of Real Estate Boards (NAREB) approved the adoption of the term as the official designation of an active member of the Association. In 1920 the District Court of Hennepin County, Minnesota, decided in favor of the Realtors in a case against a telephone directory publisher that had indiscriminately used the word in listings. The court asserted that the word "had never been used in any way whatsoever until so invented" and could thus be used only by those duly licensed by the National Association of Real Estate Boards. Until the Lanham Acts of 1948 changed federal patent regulations to allow protection for registered collective marks, the National Association fought and won sixteen cases on the local and state levels to protect its symbolic property. [Jeffrey M. Hornstein, "The Rise of Realtor," in "The Middling Sorts: Explorations in the History of the American Middle Class," New York, 2001]