Word of the Day


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a large board for advertisements in an outside public place

Origin and usage

The word billboard is an American English word that dates back to 1845. It is a combination of the word ‘bill’, from the Medieval Latin ‘bulla’ meaning ‘decree or sealed document’, and ‘board’, from the Old English ‘bord’ meaning ‘plank, flat surface’.


Billboard refers to a kind of large, outdoor advertisement that is usually seen in cities or along major roadways.

Modern-day billboard advertising dates back to the invention of the lithograph in the 1790s. This made it possible to print many hundreds of illustrated bills and posters at once, which changed the way businesses advertised their services.

In the early days of billboard advertising, most billboards were painted by hand on large wooden boards or sometimes right on the side of big buildings. They were placed along roadways where travellers would be sure to see them. These primitive billboards often promoted inns or taverns, giving passers-by information about how far away the establishment was and what amenities were offered there.

Eventually, as more people began to travel by automobile, billboards were erected to advertise roadside attractions, cities, motor lodges, car maintenance services, restaurants and a number of other things that might entice weary car travellers to pull off the highway for a brief respite.
Today, billboard advertisements can be seen in cities and along roadways all over the world.


“You feel a sense of elation seeing yourself on a billboard.”
(Paloma Faith)

“I think that I shall never see a billboard lovely as a tree. Perhaps, unless the billboards fall, I’ll never see a tree at all.”
(Ogden Nash)


ad, advert, advertisement
View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

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