Philanthropist vs Philanderer

Does anyone else mix up these words? They have completely different meanings, but whenever I see either one I have to think for a minute about which one it is. Of course I know what they mean, it’s just that the “philan” at the beginning of both words throws me off, so I thought I’d take a look at the etymology.




A philanderer is a man who has lots of affairs. The word philander, meaning lover, comes from Philander, a former literary name for a lover, from philandros (Greek) meaning loving/fond of men, from the root phil (loving/fond) + andr (man). Interesting… the etymology kind of makes it sound like it should be synonymous with homosexual.

A philanthropist is someone who assists charitable causes. Philanthropy is from philanthropia (Latin) from philanthropos (Greek) meaning humane/benevolent, from the same root phil + anthropos meaning mankind.

Very interesting. So a philanderer is a man who loves men (or rather women), while a philanthropist loves mankind. A rather subtle but important distinction, no?

One thought on “Philanthropist vs Philanderer

  1. David says:

    Actually, they do come from the same basic root, but idiomatic English usage over the years has moved these two apart. English is a very strange language really, where two words from the same root can be so different in meaning.

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