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I'm writing an essay about someone who, through his journalism, inspired others to play baseball during a time when African Americans weren't accepted in the sport.

Although he inspired others, he wasn't a role model within the sport. He wasn't Jackie Robinson, but he wrote about Jackie Robinson in a prominent newspaper, which led to people reading about Robinson and being inspired.

So, would this man be an inspiration or an inspirer? Inspiration makes me think of a role model (which he wasn't); when John says "Van Gogh was my inspiration," you would think that van Gogh's work had a direct effect on John's own pursuits. You wouldn't think that van Gogh was the means by which another artist's work became more prominent and thereby affected John's work.

At least in my mind, inspirer sounds like he simply motivated others without being a role model, but it kind of sounds wrong to me--as if someone just tacked on an -er to inspire to form an agent noun (in fact, that's what I did, since inspiration didn't sit well with me connotatively even though it came to mind first). Yet, it exists over at Dictionary.com, so I imagine that it is a word of its own that has its own meaning independent of inspiration's.

Does this subtle distinction even exist? If it does, would it make a difference to a reader familiar with this subject who knows that he was not a role model?

  • Hello, Please look at the dictionary links found at OneLook. You may to use your device's search function to search for inspirer in the various entries. For instance, Webster's 1913 Dictionary has inspirer: "One who, or that which, inspires." But I don't know how often it used today. You could search Google Books and see. – AmE speaker Apr 16 '18 at 19:39
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    I have never heard the word inspirer used by a native English speaker. It's too hard to pronounce, with two R's at the end; the natural tendency would be to delete the last one, making it identical with inspire. In effect, while it's an understandable word, it's not used and therefore shouldn't be written because it's rare and calls attention to itself. There is only that non-subtle difference between the two words. – John Lawler Apr 16 '18 at 19:41
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An inspiration (A person or thing that inspires. ‘he is an inspiration to everyone’) never need to be a role model (A person looked to by others as an example to be imitated. ‘The kids look up to Rocky as a folk hero and role model.’). Rather, inspiration in this sense is what the OP means by inspirer (‘And the search for inspirers, organizers, and financiers has yet to begin.’)

Use inspirer where the role/function is stressed on, and inspiration when the person himself is focused on, especially in a positive sense.

HTH.

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In your context "brought to light" , "popularized", "introduced to the world" , "pioneered writing on .." , "enabled" etc sounds better to me.

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