Etymology
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operative (adj.)

late 15c., operatif, "active, working," from Old French operatif (14c.) and directly from Medieval Latin operativus "creative, formative," from operat-, past-participle stem of operari (see operation). Meaning "producing the intended effect" is from 1590s.

operative (n.)

1809, "worker, operator, artisan," from operative (adj.); sense of "secret agent, spy" is attested from 1930, probably from its use by the Pinkerton Detective Agency as a title for their private detectives (1905) to avoid the term detective.

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Definitions of operative
1
operative (adj.)
(of e.g. a machine) performing or capable of performing;
Synonyms: running / functional / working
operative (adj.)
being in force or having or exerting force;
the major tendencies operative in the American political system
operative regulations
operative (adj.)
effective; producing a desired effect;
the operative word
operative (adj.)
relating to or requiring or amenable to treatment by surgery especially as opposed to medicine;
operative dentistry
Synonyms: surgical
2
operative (n.)
a person secretly employed in espionage for a government;
Synonyms: secret agent / intelligence officer / intelligence agent
operative (n.)
someone who can be employed as a detective to collect information;
Synonyms: private detective / pi / private eye / private investigator / shamus / sherlock
From wordnet.princeton.edu