You say horticulturalist, I say horticulturist

Keith Hansen, an Extension agent in Texas, has proposed a fun discussion topic:  horticulturist or horticulturalist?  We both prefer the former, though he points out that the introduction to my podcast uses the term "horticulturalist" instead.  Both terms recognized as real words and seem to be more or less interchangeable.

But I don’t really think they are interchangeable, and I don’t think Keith does, either.  Horticulture is a noun and horticultural is an adjective.  Specialty titles, like economist, botanist, or chemist, are based on nouns, not adjectives.  Otherwise we’d have economicalist, botanicalist, and chemicalist.

What do you think?  Is there a legitimate use for the word "horticulturalist?"

Published by

Linda Chalker-Scott

Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott has a Ph.D. in Horticulture from Oregon State University and is an ISA certified arborist and an ASCA consulting arborist. She is WSU’s Extension Urban Horticulturist and a Professor in the Department of Horticulture, and holds two affiliate associate professor positions at University of Washington. She conducts research in applied plant and soil sciences, publishing the results in scientific articles and university Extension fact sheets. Linda also is the award-winning author of five books: the horticultural myth-busting The Informed Gardener (2008) and The Informed Gardener Blooms Again (2010) from the University of Washington Press and Sustainable Landscapes and Gardens: Good Science – Practical Application (2009) from GFG Publishing, Inc., and How Plants Work: The Science Behind the Amazing Things Plants Do from Timber Press (2015). Her latest effort is an update of Art Kruckeberg’s Gardening with Native Plants of the Pacific Northwest from UW Press (2019). In 2018 Linda was featured in a video series – The Science of Gardening – produced by The Great Courses. She also is one of the Garden Professors – a group of academic colleagues who educate and entertain through their blog and Facebook pages. Linda’s contribution to gardeners was recognized in 2017 by the Association for Garden Communicators as the first recipient of their Cynthia Westcott Scientific Writing Award. "The Garden Professors" Facebook page - "The Garden Professors" Facebook group - Books:

45 thoughts on “You say horticulturalist, I say horticulturist”

  1. Both terms are interchangeable and I don’t mind which people use, but I agree with your assessment, Linda – I think horticulturist, being based on the noun, seems more correct. It also sounds better. “Horticulturalist” sounds like a word that has eaten too many syllables and needs to purge itself of one.

  2. Linda–

    I’m with you. “Horticulturalist” is a barbarism, and I was greatly pained to see it used –twice–in the obituary of Frank Cabot that appeared in today’s New York Times.

    1. Oh I’m sorry to hear about Frank Cabot. I’ll listen the experts and agree with Linda. But why did you use the one you disagreed with in the heading of your blog?

    2. It seems that the British have a knack for adding letters and sylables to words where they have no legitimate function. As an arborist and horticulturist, I abhor the words horticulturalist, arboriculturist, and the worst: arboriculturalist.

  3. The online OED does not list “horticulturalist” at all, only “horticulturist.” That’s enough for me. (Second edition, 1989; online version December 2011. .)

  4. Yes, the word horticultural is an adjective. It describes something. Horticulture, however, is not a noun (person, place or thing). It is an activity, that involving growing plants. Grammatically, the correct term is Horticulturist. I know, ’cause I are an edumacated one. : )

  5. C’mon, really?

    Chemistry majors become chemists.

    Botany majors become botanists.

    Geology majors become geologists.

    Besides, SIMPLER is better! Drop the unnecessary syllable, and be consistant.

  6. I just saw “horticulturalist” as in “our certified horticulturalists are here to help you succeed” on a garden center website! *facepalm* Really? Oy vey. So, put a check in the “horticulturist” column for me, and, fyi to Greg O’Connor above, “horticulture” IS a noun not a verb. You wouldn’t say, “I horticultured all morning in the garden”, would you? No offense, just clarifying.

  7. Thanks everybody for choosing to go with actual english instead of hacking new words together. I have never had to visit the Dentalist. I am very peeved when people use the term, like ‘professionals’ I work with. I remind people on a weekly basis due to the blatant disregard for the correct term “Horticulturist”

    In this day and age of “u” replacing you, and ‘r’ replacing are, it pains me to tolerate the undereducated, I prefer to have my conversations with people who refrain from lazy english.

    It’s early, I require coffee, so my rambling may be due to lack of caffeine.
    Everybody, please have a safe and productive day.

  8. While I can agree somewhat with what others are saying, I have to disagree with your reasoning regarding the following:

    “Specialty titles, like economist, botanist, or chemist, are based on nouns, not adjectives. Otherwise we’d have economicalist, botanicalist, and chemicalist”.

    We can study the economy, botany or chemistry, but not horticultary, can we? I believe the correct term to use to be horticulturalist, much like the term “agriculturalist”. Yes it is harder to say, but that shouldn’t make it an incorrect word.

    1. The point is it’s an adjective, not a noun. We don’t name professions based on adjectival forms of fields of study. (Agriculturist is a more commonly used word than agriculturalist – and most of the time they’re called agronomists.) Other fields of study don’t end in “y” – like nutrition and physics. We have nutritionists and physicists- not nutritionalists and physicalists. I would consider your point more favorably if you could identify other professional names based on an adjective, not a noun.

      1. While I agree with you that horticulturist is more accurate, I would like to point out the difference between being a culturist and a culturalist. I wonder if horticulturalist could be coopted for people coming at horticulture from a social science perspective.

  9. I think that a horticulturist is someone who is interested in horticulture (they may take horticultural actions) and a horticulturalist is someone who is interested in horticultural actions but is not a horticulturist themselves.

    This is just a theory, what do others think, could this be possible?

  10. Someone can work in the ..Floral department.. and make Floral arrangements, but they are a Florist…not a Floralist!!!

    Someone who does horticultural activities is not a horticulturalist… HORTICULTURIST!!!

  11. I know this! I know this!

    “Horticutluralist” has the same derivation as agriculturalist and pastoralist. It is NOT a “wrong word.” It’s a word with a specific anthropological meaning. A horticulturalist would be someone from a horticultural culture, just like a pastoralist would be someone from a pastoral culture. Why is it not pastorist? I don’t know! Probably because the anthropologists use the adjective so much.

    Horticulturalists are societies that practiced non-plow-based deliberate growing of plant foods.

    A horticulturist is a person who studies horticulture.

    Now you know.

  12. The term “horticulturalist” really rubs me the wrong way. I’m a geologist, would never call myself a “geologicalist”; I have friends who are biologists, not “biologicalists”.

  13. When I went to school to get my education in horticulture, in the first week of studies the instructor told the class we would be titled as ‘horticulturist’ NOT horticulturalist. I correct people when they say it the wrong way.

  14. I’m a geologist; wouldn’t consider calling myself a “geologicalist”. I have friends who are biologists, not “biologicalists”.

  15. I’m an engineer… a much simpler approach to structuring the word (must have been derived by an engineer). I propose we adopt ‘horticulturaleer’.

  16. I agree with your point. I bothers me a bit when I hear “horticulturalist” at some garden centers and botanic gardens.

  17. I am surprised by the assertion that ‘horticulturalist’ is not in the OED. It most certainly is, and it is in the online OED and in the OED’s Advanced Learner’s dictionary – and in the venerable Chambers, Cambridge, Collins and other dictionaries (as, of course, is ‘horticulturist’) and given equal status. (In conversation with other lexicographers, one hazarded a guess that, like the similarly derived [from ‘-ure’ nouns] – and correctly used – ‘agriculturalist’, its popularity may lie in the fact that, oddly, the longer word is easier to say; I certainly find it so.) While it’s fine to have preferences, and good reasons for those preferences, there is no sense in which ‘horticulturalist’ is wrong. It is a perfectly acceptable and grammatically correct alternative for ‘horticulturist’.

    1. Having just looked this up on the online OED, the word “horticulturalist” does not appear.

      In any case, those of us who ARE professional horticulturists much prefer to use that word, rather than a made-up one that doesn’t even make sense from a structural standpoint (one cannot be proficient in the practice of an adjective).

  18. Horticulturist is the correct word…Horticulturalist – not! I look at Horticulturalist as a nounjective, yep no such thing.

  19. You can be horticulturalist and not be a horticulturist. Not to be confused with Hortonculturalists who study the ancient Who dialect.

  20. Is this another US vs UK thing. I’ve never heard horticulturist until today. Even the Royal Horticultural Society in the UK uses horticulturalist.

      1. Late to the game here, but THANKS for this discussion. I’d been a user of horticulturist for a long time, then picked up “-alist” somewhere. The two Ls left me tongue-tied, but my initial Googling some months ago did not deliver helpful info on whether to drop the extra syllable or get speech therapy 😛

        @testing124747 — your explanation clinched this for me.

    1. You Brits also use Leicester instead of Lester and Cholmondeley instead of Chumley. We Americans also prefer to use the “Z” instead of the “S” where it’s pronounced as “Z,” Plant evolution has progressed from compound leaves and dicots to simple leaves and monocots, but the English language in Britain had devolved in the opposite direction, apparently. I propose that the Royal Society be renamed to the Royal Horticulturalistical Society, and you can take credit for that, if you like. All fun intended, of course.

  21. perhaps very late to the discussion. Consider those who study field crops and field soils are agronomists, not agronomalists.

  22. My father is an extremely successful and many times published “horticulturist”. PLEASE don’t use “horticulturalist”. It’s perpetuating the incorrect usage. I’m now 43, and SO TIRED of keeping my mouth shut as I cringe ever time I hear it.

Leave a Reply