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My question is - "are there any differences between the meanings, connotations and usages of the words debtor and debitor?". The context in which I intend to use the word is a business budget, where it is used as an antonym to the word "creditor"; I wish to find the most appropriate word for this context.

My instinct would be to use debitor where referring to a party who owes a debt to another specified party, and to use debtor to denote a party which is in a state of debt e.g.:

  • "Purchaser A is debitor to supplier B"
  • "Mr. C is a debtor, and urgently needs to turn his financial state around"

This would make debitor the more appropriate word for my usage. Collins Dictionary appears to support the use of "debitor" in this way. However, debtor can also be used to mean a party which owes a debt to another specific party. So is my instinct correct in this case?

Secondly my text editing software flags debitor as a misspelling, and Collins states that the word is used rarely. Is the word debitor so rare as to be likely to be taken as a misspelling, or seen as an anachronism?

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    Merriam-Webster and Dictionary.com say "obsolete"; Oxford and Cambridge on-line don't seem to list it. Wordnet lists it as an alternate form of debtor, but as far as I know doesn't include details on how widespread it may be. – Ben Jul 17 '17 at 11:22
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    So you have two 'obsoletes', a 'rarely used' and two significant dictionaries don't choose to include it in their their free-access online versions . Does that get you closer to answering your question? – Spagirl Jul 17 '17 at 11:30
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    I would say it's the same as the relationship between "debt" and "debit". – Hot Licks Jul 17 '17 at 11:31
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    To summarize, we are saying use one for all purposes and use the other never. – Yosef Baskin Jul 17 '17 at 13:52
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    It is a variant form of debtor, just as debt is a variant form of debit. Debit means 'he owes' in Latin and that's the meaning of debt. One's just become more specialized in English, that's all. – John Lawler Jul 17 '17 at 20:08
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Professor John Lawler wrote in a comment:

Debitor is a variant form of debtor, just as debt is a variant form of debit. Debit means 'he owes' in Latin and that's the meaning of debt. One's just become more specialized in English, that's all.

Also, some dictionaries seem to support that they're variants: Vocabulary.com, Wiktionary, TFD.

Here's Google Ngrams showing debitor going out of use:

debitor vs debtor

  • I find this answer particularly helpful for dealing with what is probably the root of my confusion -debt and debit were equivalent, but have diverged, while debtor and debitor were equivalent, but debitor has simply gone out of use. – Ben Jul 18 '17 at 10:00
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You mention that you are planning to use this for a business budget. I have heard it said that the language of business is accounting and I believe most business people will be familiar with terminology from modern double-entry accounting. The uses of creditor for lender and debitor for debtor harken back to the days of single-entry accounting when one would simply record a single entry of a loan made as a credit and a single entry of a loan received as a debit. Today, with double-entry accounting, a loan made causes cash to be credited and accounts receivable or similar to be debited, while a loan received causes cash to be debited and loan payable or similar to be credited. Thus, there is both a debit and credit entry in both cases.

That is why debitor has already begun to slip out of the language in this historic usage (and, who know?, creditor may one day follow). There is not a difference in how debtor and debitor were used historically but today there is a difference, especially because debitor can be confusing given the rise of double-entry accounting and the pervasiveness of debit cards - a person using a debit card could be referred to as a debitor but that is a person who is avoiding owing a loan by paying directly from his bank account rather than using a credit card.

You can use debtor (or loan payable) for someone who has a loan and delinquent or behind in payments for someone in a more serious situation - doubtful account is the normal accounting terminology and a group of business people will likely all understand that term.

Instead of creditor the precise accounting term would be loan receivable although either should be understandable.

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  • I like your explanation of why creditor and debitor could be confusing words to use to describe parties with which one does business. I think actually "customer" and "supplier" accounts are the word pair I should use, both of which could either be in debt or in credit. My original word choice was actually making an unhelpful assumption. – Ben Jul 18 '17 at 10:32

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