1847, "a Jew, Arab, Assyrian, or Aramaean" (an apparently isolated use from 1797 refers to the Semitic language group), back-formation from Semitic or else from French Sémite (1845), from Modern Latin Semita, from Late Latin Sem, Greek Sēm "Shem," one of the three sons of Noah (Genesis x.21-30), regarded as the ancestor of the Semites in Bible-based anthropology, from Hebrew Shem. In this modern sense it is said to have been introduced by German historian August Schlözer in 1781.
The credit, if such it be, of having originated the name "Semitic" (from Noah's son Sem or Shem) for the Hebrew group, is to be given either to Schlözer or to Eichhorn, — to which of the two is doubtful. The first known use of the term is in Schlözer's article on the Chaldæans, in Eichhorn's Repertorium, 8, 161 (1781), and he seems to claim the honor of its invention ; but a similar claim is made by Eichhorn himself, without mention of Schlözer, in his Allgemeine Bibliothek, 6, 772 (1794). [Philip Schaff, ed., "Religious Encyclopedia," 1889]
updated on April 28, 2022