Shifter is a generic term (when used within the context of the Therian
community) for one who undergoes changes, or shifts, and does so frequently enough or feels it is important enough to their identity as a therian that they think of themselves in terms of "one who shifts".
A shifter is someone for whom an important part of their experience as a therian is changing states from a more or less normal human state of mind, to a more animal or therian one, and back.
This generally refers to an M-shift
, or nonphysical shift of some sort.
Well, there are werewolves
, werejaguars, werefoxes, wereravens, and lots of other were-somethings. A shifter is the politically correct term for werebeasts of all kinds (even those who don't shift in any way). Since very few modern were-animals can actually physically shift, and most people tend to define a were-creature as a physical shifter, we tend to prefer the term "shifter" because it can apply to either a mental shifter or physical shifter. Yet some still prefer the term were-(their animal species) because they do not shift mentally or physically, and thus the term shifter is confusing. "Were
" is another generic term for any sort of shapeshifter, even though, technically, its meaning in Old English is "man", it has come to be seen as indicating "shapeshifter" because it is never seen anymore in our language except attatched to the name of some animal as an indication of a person who shifts into that animal.
A shifter, as you may have already gathered, is a person who can shapeshift. Calling a shifter a "were" also works because it can be short for werewolf or whatever phenptype it is that they have. It's that general and for that reason some shifters may prefer to be called weres. Like being called a shifter, it implies only that they have the ability to change their shape into an animal form.
There are three main types of shifters: lycanthropes, therianthropes, and polymorphs. Of course there are others, but to keep things simple I've narrowed it down to these main three...