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”.1 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

  1. The Atlantic Wire []


  1. Robyn Carr says

    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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