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If jail and prison are (at least nearly) synonymous, why does jailer refer to the captor, and prisoner refer to the captive?

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up vote 5 down vote accepted

The short answer would be that jail may be used as a verb, but prison is verbed only in archaic poetry (imprison takes its place in ordinary modern speech). People may be jailed, but who ever says they are prisoned?

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That makes about halfway sense to me. But still - why then is "prisoner" a word at all? – Daniel Jul 3 '11 at 12:32
"jailer" is referring to 'a person who jails'. Jail is being used as verb. "prisoner" is 'a person who belongs to prison'. Prison is noun here. – Thursagen Jul 3 '11 at 21:09
@Danielδ - Other examples: pensioner (one who receives a pension), commoner (one who belongs to the commons)... probably a bunch of others, but my brain just ran dry. – MT_Head Jul 6 '12 at 20:01
I see. So [noun]-er is someone who makes use of the [noun], and [verb]-er is someone who [verb]s. Makes complete sense to me now. It's just that it wasn't obvious that jail is a verb, especially when set side-by-side with prison. – Daniel Jul 6 '12 at 20:03
A [noun/adjective/adverb]-er isn’t necessarily someone who makes use of [N/A/A]—it’s rather more vague than that. It’s just someone who is somehow or other associated with [N/A/A]. A foreigner, for instance, does not ‘use’ foreign lands, he is just generically associated with ‘foreign’. These words can be considered a type of determinative compounds, with the -er suffix functioning as the compound head. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Sep 14 '13 at 17:32

protected by tchrist Sep 14 '13 at 17:33

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