Although semantic processing has traditionally been associated with brain responses maximal at 350–400 ms, recent studies reported that words of different semantic types elicit topographically distinct brain responses substantially earlier, at 100–200 ms. These earlier responses have, however, been achieved using insufficiently precise source localisation techniques, therefore casting doubt on reported differences in brain generators. Here, we used high-density MEG-EEG recordings in combination with individual MRI images and state-of-the-art source reconstruction techniques to compare localised early activations elicited by words from different semantic categories in different cortical areas. Reliable neurophysiological word-category dissociations emerged bilaterally at ~ 150 ms, at which point action-related words most strongly activated frontocentral motor areas and visual object-words occipitotemporal cortex. These data now show that different cortical areas are activated rapidly by words with different meanings and that aspects of their category-specific semantics is reflected by dissociating neurophysiological sources in motor and visual brain systems.