Why 'Astrologer,' Not 'Astrologist'?

You may wonder why, in this whole website, I never use the word “astrologist.”  There’s a reason for that, but before writing this blogpost, even I didn’t know what it was.  Excuse me—I’m going to get a wee bit ranty now.

In 2007, I noticed that my accountant (whom I’m grateful to have, bless his helpful soul) showed my occupation on my tax forms as ‘astrologist.’  This irritated me and I didn’t know why it irritated me.  I skipped over the irritation and let my accountant know that my profession should be listed as ‘astrologer.’  He duly made the change.  But the interaction made me curious.  Why was my reaction one of irritation and why was his mistake so natural?

Other things pressed on my attention and I moved on, but sometime in 2008 the word came up again, so I finally decided to research the language a little.  I searched online for definitions of astrologer and astrologist and found, as is usually the case, that Wikipedia had the clearest answer.  According to Wikipedia, an astrologist was “a dabbler in astrology,” a sort of hobbyist, while a professional would be called an ‘astrologer.’  That definition satisfied me and explained my reaction.  I was happy with it and have passed it on to others ever since.

However, today (in 2009) I discovered that my definition is founded upon shifting sands.  Wikipedia has changed its mind and now defines astrologist as a synonym for astrologer. The entry for ‘astrologist’ now redirects to ‘astrology.’  I searched for ‘astrologist’ on the ‘astrology’ page and found that wikipedia now defines astrologist and astrologer as the same, saying ‘a practitioner of astrology is called an astrologer or an astrologist.’

Quite frankly, this left me confused.  Wikipedia is a work-in-progress and I’m aware it may change over time, but this definition had been altered from clear to unclear.  I sought out other online dictionaries and continued to find more muddy definitions.  Here are some examples:  in the Wiktionary, astrologist is defined as ‘one who practices astrology.’  There’s no mention of whether they do it professionally or as a hobby.  That should be no surprise, because Wictionary is related to Wikipedia.  According to wordnet.web.princeton.edu, astrologist is synonymous with astrologer: ‘someone who predicts the future by the positions of the planets and sun and Moon.’  TheFreeDictionary.com uses exactly the same definition as Princeton and Answers.com merely points to Wikipedia.  And in the glossary on FindYourFate.com, astrologist is defined as ‘Non-professional who believes in or studies but does not necessarily practice astrology.’  Clearer, but I’m not familiar with FindYourFate.com (it looks a little hokey to me), so I’m not sure I can credit the source of that definition.

I don’t know about you, but it seems to me there’s some room for error here.

I really want a clear, authoritative definition, but I think part of the problem is that the definitions I’m finding are not written by people whose lives are steeped in astrology.  Every field of endeavor deserves its own lexicon and should be the authority for defining its own terms.  So I started looking in serious astrological sources.  I went to my bookshelf and took down the Astrology Encyclopedia, a hefty tome by James R. Lewis.  No entry for astrologist.  No mention of the word anywhere, not even in the index.  I began pulling other books off the shelf, by authors I respect and looked for the word astrologist in their indices.  Not there anywhere.  Hmm, the plot thickens.

Next I went back online, seeking serious practitioners of astrology to help me in my quest.  I found on www.astrology-numerology.com that an astrologist is defined as ‘a non-professional who believes in or studies but does not necessarily practice astrology.’  This agrees with my sense of the word.  On www.astrology.com I found astrologist defined as ‘believer in, or follower of, astrology – though not necessarily an actual astrologer.’  Aha—two sources in agreement!  My field apparently backs up this hobbyist vs. professional angle.

For a truly final word, I’ve just now gone to my Oxford English Dictionary to look up the word ‘astrologist.’  It’s not there.  Not anywhere: not in a listing of its own, and not under ‘astrologer’ or ‘astrology’ as a variant.  I then thought I’d try my American Heritage Dictionary, for the American point of view.  Once again, no ‘astrologist’ anywhere.  Nonexistent.

All this together serves to explain to me why I have always, in my 29 years of study, never encountered the word astrologist in a serious astrology book.  I’ve never heard a professional practitioner of astrology call themselves an astrologist.  Apparently the word astrologist has evolved recently and is not an official word in English.  It’s a word used by people who are not actual professionals.  Those who do practice professionally are called astrologers.  I’ll never again be able to speak or hear the word ‘astrologist’ with a straight face.

So, gentle reader, please go forth and let the world know:  there is no such thing as an ‘astrologist.’  It’s a made-up word, a mythical beast, and the right term is ‘astrologer.’

Ok, rant over.  😉

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Astrology blogger since 2007

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