Protester vs Protestor
Which one is correct?
If you have read much of the coverage concerning recent events in the United States, especially regarding the protest movements such as Black Lives Matter and other protests about various topics of concern throughout the world, maybe you’ve noticed that no one seems to be able to agree on the proper way to spell the word protester. One article will spell it protester, and the next will spell it protestor. Heck, some writers have even spelled it both ways in the course of a single article. I’ve caught myself trying to do this in fact, and I noticed that the grammar correction function of Word does not seem to mind either spelling. So, I decided to investigate this for my own sanity.
The root of the word protester/protestor is obviously protest, so you would think, but protest is actually a shortening of the Latin original prōtestārī, which meant to declare publicly. Protest itself was a French word, protêt, originating in usage around 1350–1400. This is according the the etymology listed with protester on dictionary.com. You might notice, that listed among the variations of the word, when it shows protester, it lists protestor next to it as an alternate. This is not helpful to my goal.
However, when one searches for the word protestor on any dictionary site, the default return for this is protester as a result. This would indicate that protester is the preferred terminology, and that protestor is the alternate spelling. Technically, they are both acceptable in usage, but the fact that one is considered an alternate spelling, generally means that it should be less likely to be encountered than the traditional spelling.
There is also the matter of the editorial standards set by the AP Stylebook, which states that protester is the preferred spelling of the word. This is because protester is always listed before protestor in the standard dictionaries. Of course, in matters of listing words, you have to factor in here that dictionaries are alphabetically sorted, so logically, E comes before O, which doesn’t necessarily indicate a level of hierarchy. According to a recent article in The Atlantic on this subject, there’s a distinction in suffix usage as well, in which the -er suffix is applied to common usage, and the -or suffix is used to denote areas of expertise.
I don’t think this really settles the dispute on the matter. But, if you google the phrase “protester vs protestor” you get this result on askdifference.com, which just tells you point blank that protestor is INCORRECT. Well, gee, I guess that answers my question. Why didn’t I just google it to begin with?
At the end of the day, since both spellings are technically acceptable, I think this one is a matter of personal preference. It just boils down to which word a person thinks looks best on the page. I’d only ask, if you pick one spelling over the other, please be consistent in your articles! Which one looks right to you? Choose wisely.