Lately I’ve been hearing a lot of people using the word “Astrologist.” It sounds funny because I’m used to always hearing “Astrologer.”
I thought maybe it’s similar to “Psychologist” vs. “Psychiatrist” – and got a chuckle out of that, as if an Astrologist prescribes drugs on the basis of your birth chart =). But then I realized that the suffixes are totally different. But it’s still worth the chuckle.
So what is the difference between an -ist and an -er?
There is almost no difference. -ist indicates a practitioner. -er indicates a performer. Like I said, there is almost no difference. The difference is grammatical. You can attach -er to verbs, but you can’t attach -ist to verbs. For example, “compute” is a verb (to calculate). You can make the word “Computer” for a thing that performs calculations. But you can’t make the word computist. It breaks English rules (believe it or not, it does have rules). In fact you can correctly say that -ist is the suffix for nouns, and -er is the suffix for verbs.
Marxist is a practitioner of a noun: Marxism, a word based on the noun Marx.
Buddhist is a practitioner of a noun: Buddhism, a word based on the noun Buddha.
Theist is a practitioner of God-centered philosohy: Theism, a word based on the noun Theo / Deio / Deity.
Reader is a person or thing that reads (a verb).
Computer is a person or thing that computes (a verb).
Runner is a person or thing that runs (a verb).
The tricky thing is that you can make a noun a verb, and that verb can become someone’s occupation. Geology is a noun. A person who does geology as a career is a Geologer (er… geologist??? yikes). Photographer, etc.
A person who practices violin is a violinist. But a professional is supposed to be a “Violin-player” when you are specifically referring to their occupation.
Psychologist is a person who studies and practices psychology, but when you talk about their carrer you are supposed to say they are a “psychologer.” But the weirdest part of all is that psychologer and geologer are coming up with red lines in the spell checker!?!?!?!? Well, English does have rules, but it’s not really all that clear what the heck they are.
I heard someone once say that -ist is for words of a latin or greek origin. And -er is for words of old english origin. I don’t know…
So is it okay to say “Astrologist”? Yes, sure. I am a person who sees the world largely through the philosophical and psychological framework of classical astrology, and I practice astrology daily – thus I am an astrologist. But if you are talking about my career as a professional, you should probably call me an “astrologer.”
Anyway call it either way you like. I was just happy to muse about it a bit. =)
– Vic Dicara