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Or, to make matters a bit more attainable, what is the earliest occurrence of the term attested in writing?

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    Downvoted for lack of research. The answer is literally the first one that comes up when you google the word – Valorum Sep 14 '17 at 20:09
  • Kind of embarrassing, yes. I didn't check Wikipedia, but I did search on this site beforehand (obviously without any hits as the answer is readily available on Wikipedia). That said, though, I would still argue that the many downvotes are a bit extreme for the following reason: when there's a question on SE and an answer consisted simply of a link to Wikipedia, that answer would be considered bad, since Wikipedia can change over time. Also, does the mere existence of the answer on Wikipedia (at this point in time) make the question bad? And wouldn't have 1 downvote be sufficient? – Thomas Sep 15 '17 at 11:17
  • Evidently multiple users felt that your question was sufficiently poor as to merit their downvotes. As to whether there mere existence of an answer on wikipedia is enough to earn my downvote, the answer is a qualified no. My downvote was because the wikipedia link was the first result when I googled your own question title. The next link down also answered it directly as did the one below it implying that you'd done zero independent research before posting. – Valorum Sep 15 '17 at 11:22
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    True about the option of deleting the question. But, alternatively, I could also go over to Wikipedia and modify the entry on "Earthling" to not contain the answer to my question any more ;-) – Thomas Sep 16 '17 at 20:53
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According to Wikipedia,

the sense of "inhabitant of earth" is first attested in 1593

although no reference is given to back up this claim. However, the same entry also mentions a work from 1949 ("Red Planet" by Robert A. Heinlein), claimed to be the first work in science fiction literature to contain the term in its current meaning.

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