The Etymology of Author

Following the infallible logic that it’s not procrastinating if it’s even tangentially related to something that I need to do, I decided to look up the etymology of the word author. (It’s relevant to writing and to linguistics! See, it totally doesn’t count as procrastination. *wink*)

Anyways, I wanted to share what I found because it’s kind of awesome.

English author was a borrowing from Middle French auteur/aucteur (plus other variants), which, through Old French, comes from Latin auctor.

The Latin auctor is a noun composed auct- (past passive participle stem of augēre) + -or (agent noun suffix).

That is all well and good, exciting for a historical linguist but maybe not for many others. What is interesting for people less nerdy than I am is its semantic history.

auctor ‘he that brings about existence of any object or promotes the increase or prosperity of it, whether he first originates it, or by his efforts gives greater permanence or continuance to it,’ in other words, ‘creator, maker, author, inventor, producer, father, founder, teacher, composer’.

Essentially, an author is someone who creates. But it’s more than that. An author can foster or promote something that already exists or create something entirely new.

What is this something? Think about what authors create and promote: ideas and ideals; heroes, villains, and everyone in between; communities and worlds. Authors inspire curiosity, thought, and emotion in readers.

When we take the etymology further, we see that the Latin root aug- comes from the Proto-Indo-European root *h2eug-, which meant ‘increase.’

In order to increase something, it must already exist, no? I may prefer this to the idea that authors create something out of nothing. Yes, writers imagine whole worlds and stories. I’m not questioning anyone’s creativity. What I am saying is that the characters who inhabit those imaginary worlds and their interactions and the emotions they experience are based in reality. Authors reveal, twist, and augment reality to evoke some reaction from readers.

So, that’s my nerdy linguistic tangent for you. Until next time. *tips hat*


“author, n.” OED Online
“auctor,” A Latin Dictionary, Lewis & Short, via
“aug-” The American Heritage Dictionary


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