For Bettor or Worse

From a column by Gail Collins in The New York Times of March 6, 2014:

“…Adelson claims he’s propelled by a moral standard, which apparently involves saving betters from losing money…”

The word betters is a noun all right, one meaning “those more worthy than others in a particular group.” But people who place bets are bettors. And what’cha wanna bet this boner was the work of the electronic mosquito known as AutoCorrect, and not Ms. Collins’s fault? While it is likely that the word in question was written as betters back when spelling had yet to be standardized, bettors has taken the o in standard British (and later, American) English since the early 1600s.

Some similar nouns are spelled both ways, with either -er or -or as the suffix. One that comes to mind is adviser/adviser. Though no eyebrows will be raised when the two spellings are used interchangeably, as a rule an adviser merely gives advice on occasion: “Carl has been my friend and adviser for many years.” An advisor, on the other hand, generally makes her living by giving advice: “JoAnn was recently hired as Marketing Advisor for Buy and Large, Inc.”

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