What Do You Call Someone Who Protests?


Last year could very well be called the year of protests. We’re only halfway through this year, but I guess we can say that protests are still the “in” thing.

Now please remember that this is a grammar column and not a political one, so let’s forget about the latter aspect of the word. Instead, why don’t we take a look at a noun derived from the word “protest”? What do you call a person who protests?

Is he a protester, or is he a protestor?

A quick look at online dictionaries will not give you a single answer. It seems that it goes both ways. It could be one of those things that depend on style and preference.

In fact, if you are well-versed in the AP style, you probably immediately thought “protester”, and there’s nothing wrong with that! What I found interesting, though, is the statement of John Simpson, the chief editor of the Oxford English Dictionary.

From what I read in an article published by The Atlantic Wire, Simpson says “the variation [in using -er or -or] tends to indicate a level of expertise”. ((The Atlantic Wire)) He expounds:

“The suffix -er is the regular one used in English for agent nouns (nouns for people who do things, like protest). If we leave aside (a) words formed on verbs in -ate, where -or is normal, and (b) words in which the stem isn’t a verb at all, like doctor, then I think that the general feeling is that -or implies a rather specialized, technical, or professional role (as with advisor in contrast to adviser). But I should stress that this is only a tendency–one finds instances of both spellings.”

That’s something I learned today. I hope it will be of some use to you as well.

So which form do you use? Does this post change anything?

Image via jsgraphicdesign





One response
  1. Robyn Carr Avatar
    Robyn Carr

    Thanks for this post — I hadn’t thought about the differences between the “er” and “or” suffixes until now.Simpson’s “er” vs. “or” argument explains why “author” sounds more professional than “writer.”

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