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In freedom fighter the fighter supports freedom.
In fire fighter the fighter fights fire.

How do you determine when it is the first or the second case?

What is the meaning of spam fighter?

@Hellion,
as the afterthought and in response to comments by @Kosmonaut, and as a person who has lived in a dozen of countries, in the East and the West,
the positive connotation is highly subjective and culture-specific.

How should I use "spam fighter" to be understood:

  • in negative connotation?
  • in positive one?

How to interpret, for example the "culture fighter", "education fighter", "religion fighter"?

One could tell that this depends on context.
And if I see this as nicks on the internet?

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"how to interpret [nonexistent terms]"? Not at all, since there's no need, as those terms don't exist. If I saw them as nicks? I'd either ask or ignore them. –  Jürgen A. Erhard Feb 19 '11 at 20:59
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3 Answers 3

up vote 14 down vote accepted

The safe way to interpret this sort of thing, especially if the label is self-applied, is to assume the most positive possible connotation: fighting against something bad, or for something good. If someone chooses to label themselves or their product as a spam fighter, then since spam is an undesirable thing, you should assume that they will be fighting against spam.

Edit to address the follow-up: If you want to be unambiguously understood, it's best to avoid the use of this sort of phrase and spell out exactly what you mean. I think most people would assume that "spam fighter" is someone who fights against spam, while "spammer" is someone who creates spam and probably also fights (in secret, when possible) for the right to continue to do so; but if you want to be absolutely clear about it, you'll need to go ahead and say "fighter against the relentless onslaught of spam e-mails" or "crusader for the right to send unlimited amounts of spam e-mail".

With the other phrases you mention ("education fighter", "religion fighter", "culture fighter"), there really is no way to determine whether someone is fighting for it or against it without context. In the US, school-based education about various aspects of sex continues to be a very controversial topic, but there's no way to tell if someone who calls themselves a "sex-education fighter" is pro-Sex-Education or anti-Sex-Education based solely on that label. (My personal inclination would be to favor the "fighter against X" interpretation in general, but I wouldn't rely on that.)

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This relationship is always ambiguous, unless the word itself has an established meaning; otherwise, the relationship must be determined by context, often in the way Hellion describes. Sometimes this ambiguity can lead to humorous interpretations, like an ad in Facebook for a photographer that said "one of New Jersey's most sought after newborn baby photographers". –  Kosmonaut Jan 30 '11 at 15:04
    
Or that they are fighting to promote Spam® and against those who oppose it. @Kosmonaut: is the ambiguity that the photographer is just a baby? I don't see any other. Newborn… New Jersey… don't get it. –  Potatoswatter Jan 31 '11 at 5:04
    
@Kosmonaut, please put it as answer. BTW, why is such name? It is how austronauts are named in Russian. Is it in English? –  Gennady Vanin Novosibirsk Jan 31 '11 at 9:39
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@Potato: you could think he is a pedophile who photographs babies, and he's "sought after" by the police who wants to arrest him. –  Lohoris Jan 31 '11 at 12:15
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@Potatoswatter: The ambiguity is whether it is a photographer of newborn babies or a photographer that is a newborn baby. –  Kosmonaut Jan 31 '11 at 13:24
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You can just use more specific words, such as attacker and defender.

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... and a fire attacker is one who attacks fires, or one who attacks using fire as his weapon ... ?? –  GEdgar Jul 20 '13 at 14:35
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I wouldn't use the term fire attacker as everyone already knows what a fire fighter is, but it would work in a hypothetical society that had yet to establish any convention. Someone who uses fire to attack, wouldn't be a fire attacker anyway?? Do you say 'gun attacker'? I'd use gunman or shooter myself. –  Carl Smith Jul 20 '13 at 14:46
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To answer the latter question:

How to interpret, for example the "culture fighter", "education fighter", "religion fighter"?

The English language employs different nouns to convey more successfully the above concepts. Here are two of the more common ones, but there are many others.

Activist is used to express the concept of an individual or with others who actively campaign for or promote the rights of a minority group or section of society. For example a women's rights activist or a free speech activist.

Defender likewise is used to convey someone who fights to protect a right or a belief and can also be a person who defends a minority group for example; defender of the Faith or Fedei Defensor, and a Human Rights defender.

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