What's the difference between the words "proffer" and "offer"?
April 19, 2004 2:54 PM   Subscribe

What's the difference between the words "proffer" and "offer"? This has been driving me mad for some reason for a few days now. Every dictionary I consult basically seems to say that they mean the same thing. But surely there must be a difference, right?
posted by reklaw to Writing & Language (12 answers total)
Yes: people that use the word "proffer" sound like a boob.
posted by five fresh fish at 3:05 PM on April 19, 2004 [1 favorite]

Yeah, proffer's more formal. No two words have exactly the same connotations; epitemologically (is that a word?) they're different, and even if they weren't their individual pronunciations make them fit more naturally, phoetics-wise, in different contexts.
posted by Tlogmer at 3:07 PM on April 19, 2004

Er, phonetics.
posted by Tlogmer at 3:08 PM on April 19, 2004

According to WordWeb:
n. A proposal offered for acceptance or rejection
v. Present for acceptance or rejection

So it's more specific than "offer".
posted by signal at 3:29 PM on April 19, 2004

My sense of the difference, and I really have nothing to back this up, at all, is that proffer is more "physical" or at least "specific". That there's something specific that's being presented and offered. There's a yes/no answer expected to follow shortly.
posted by jacquilynne at 3:55 PM on April 19, 2004

"Proffer" seems to be a subset of "offer". If you look at the roots:

proffer: fr. L. proferre to bring forth or forward, to offer; pro forward + ferre to bring.

offer: OE/ME to present in worship, and from Old French offrir, to propose, present, both from Latin offerre, to present, offer

"Proffer" does sound more snooty--maybe because of its French origins?
posted by timothompson at 3:57 PM on April 19, 2004

Yes, as timothompson says, the meanings of "proffer" are a subset of the meanings of "offer." For example, you don't "proffer" to do someone a favor.

As you can see from the definitions already quoted, to "proffer" something is to "bring it forth (for approval)." This usually means something in your possession or under your control. You're putting something up for judgment.

But you can "offer" almost anything -- including intangibles and things you don't possess/control, such as future things. You can offer actions and promises, but these aren't things you "proffer."

Both words ultimately come from the same Latin root (ferre), just with different prefixes. Neither is really more "French" -- and actually Old French is cited as an origin for "offer," not "proffer."
posted by macrone at 4:41 PM on April 19, 2004 [1 favorite]

One could proffer an offer, provided it's been written down... but then you'd sound even worse than a dandy.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:39 PM on April 19, 2004

I always thought of it as more formal. I also sort of picture the act of offering up something to someone, as opposed to the more amorphous "offer."

Also, proffer is a legal term. You make a proffer of what you might testify to in exchange for a deal, for example.

posted by CunningLinguist at 6:59 PM on April 19, 2004

As I understand both words, "proffer" doesn't involve generosity or individuality, just "presenting" what is (thought to be) required and is probably already at hand, whereas "offer" can mean "give" and, even if it's used on a commercial basis, pressuposes some thought and adaptation to a request or need.

"Proffer" is more non-commital; more automatic. "Offer" presumes adequation. "Proffer" is robotic; "Offer" is custom-made.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 7:43 PM on April 19, 2004

macrone sums up the difference well, However, the concept that words can be "snooty" in and of themselves, or that they make the utterer sound like a "boob", is a peculiarly American conceit that results in the majority of the population dumbing down their speech to appeal to the highest common factor, and leads to a diminution of commonly used and understood vocabulary, whereas I am of the undeniable persuasion that one should always employ in the first case the most accurate and in the second the most telescoped word in one's repertoire in almost all circumstances, unless of course one is conversing with uneducated plebians, in which case one should make a conscious effort to use the most polysyllabic and tramontane words in order to prove one's innate superiority.

Snootiness is in the attitude, not the words.
posted by cbrody at 9:37 PM on April 19, 2004

While offer is a pretty generic term that I think can be used in all of the same cases as proffer, I've always figured proffer to be more specific.

Specifically, when I think if the word proffer, I think of holding on object and non-vocally offering it to another person, via the gesture of moving the object towards them....
posted by jaded at 9:12 AM on April 20, 2004

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