Authors vs writers

Some say authors, others say writers. A few – thankfully only a few – say Auteurs. Is there really a difference?

This is a matter of language, really. More precisely, and ignoring for the moment the faux-Frenchified Auteur, it is the difference between OE and Latin.

Author derives from Latin “augure”, meaning to increase (as in augment) or to originate. So the latter sense gives us the notion of someone thinking up ideas in their head and communicating them to others. We will often drag in another Latin word,  “art”, which means to physically join the bits together, to help us better describe whatever it is that the author has built up:but then artist and artisan divorce and glare at each other in permanent misunderstanding for evermore.

Writer, on the other hand, is from an Old English/Germanic stem which is best represented in modern English by the words engraver or carver: in this sense, there’s a connotation of permanence and rigidity which the much more fluid author may not have.

Auteur is a confection of the mid to late 20th century. SOED says “A film director who so greatly influences the films directed as to be able to rank as their author.” I guess if you say it in French it must mean that it is  a very good thing indeed, having pretensions to continental sensibilities as well as artistry. Thank you, Citizen Kane. Given that it’s come from breathless coinage to OTT parody in one generation, let’s leave it out of the discussion.

I like to go back and have a look at the etymology of words, but the touted difference between the words author (as an artist) and writer (as a technician) seems to me to be a bit precious. Given the way that the word author and the process of authoring has been taken over by the multimedia world of the Internet (where it is truly technical), I think I’ve probably reached the point of using the term writer to mean anything to do with words, whatever the ultimate purpose of the work.

And so I will.