The term "capitalist", meaning an owner of
capital, appears earlier than the term "capitalism" and it dates back to the mid-17th century. "Capitalism" is derived from capital, which evolved from capitale, a late
Latin word based on caput, meaning "head" – also the origin of
cattle in the sense of movable property (only much later to refer only to livestock). Capitale emerged in the 12th to 13th centuries in the sense of referring to funds, stock of merchandise, sum of money or money carrying interest.
 By 1283, it was used in the sense of the capital assets of a trading firm and it was frequently interchanged with a number of other words – wealth, money, funds, goods, assets, property and so on.
The Hollandische Mercurius uses capitalists in 1633 and 1654 to refer to owners of capital.
 In French,
Étienne Clavier referred to capitalistes in 1788,
 six years before its first recorded English usage by
Arthur Young in his work Travels in France (1792).
 In his
Principles of Political Economy and Taxation (1817),
David Ricardo referred to "the capitalist" many times.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, an English poet, used "capitalist" in his work Table Talk (1823).
Pierre-Joseph Proudhon used the term "capitalist" in his first work,
What is Property? (1840), to refer to the owners of capital.
Benjamin Disraeli used the term "capitalist" in his 1845 work
The initial usage of the term "capitalism" in its modern sense has been attributed to
Louis Blanc in 1850 ("What I call 'capitalism' that is to say the appropriation of capital by some to the exclusion of others") and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon in 1861 ("Economic and social regime in which capital, the source of income, does not generally belong to those who make it work through their labour").
Karl Marx and
Friedrich Engels referred to the "capitalistic system"
 and to the "capitalist mode of production" in
The Capital (1867).
 The use of the word "capitalism" in reference to an economic system appears twice in Volume I of The Capital, p. 124 (German edition) and in Theories of Surplus Value, tome II, p. 493 (German edition). Marx did not extensively use the form capitalism, but instead those of capitalist and capitalist mode of production, which appear more than 2,600 times in the trilogy The Capital. According to the
Oxford English Dictionary (OED), the term "capitalism" first appeared in English in 1854 in the novel
The Newcomes by novelist
William Makepeace Thackeray, where he meant "having ownership of capital".
 Also according to the OED,
Carl Adolph Douai, a
abolitionist, used the phrase "private capitalism" in 1863.