The Grammarphobia Blog

Equatorial currents

Q: When did “Ecuadoran” become “Ecuadorian”? Why do we need “Ecuadorian”? It sounds illiterate, Bushlike.

A: We’re sorry to be the bearers of bad news, but we checked half a dozen dictionaries and none of them consider “Ecuadoran” the preferred  English adjective or noun for Ecuador and its citizens.

Most of the dictionaries list “Ecuadorian” as the standard noun and adjective. The most common alternative given is the spelling variant “Ecuadorean.”

The two standard dictionaries we consult the most—The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (5th ed.) and Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.)—don’t include “Ecuadoran” as a variant. Neither does the Oxford English Dictionary.  

We could find only two standard dictionaries that consider “Ecuadoran” a variant spelling: the Collins English Dictionary and Webster’s New World College Dictionary (4th ed.).

In the OED’s entry for “Ecuadorian,” the earliest example of the adjective (defined as “of, belonging to, or characteristic of Ecuador”) is from an 1860 issue of The Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London.

The earliest example of the noun (“a native or inhabitant of Ecuador”) is from an 1861 issue of the same journal.

Though the spellings do vary a bit in the OED’s earliest examples (“Equatorian,” “Ecuatoreans,” etc.), the number of syllables is consistent, and all entries end in either “-ian” or
“-ean.”

As the OED explains, the suffixes “-ian” and “-an” are used to form adjectives and nouns that convey the meaning “of or belonging to.” Some words have the extra letter (“Parisian,” “Bostonian,” “Italian”) and some use the shorter “-an” suffix (“American,” “Ohioan,” “Roman”).

Not surprisingly, the word ecuador is Spanish for “equator,” the imaginary circle that divides the earth into northern and southern hemispheres. And Ecuador is one of 14 countries through which the equator passes.

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