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The etymology of "amateur", according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, is:

1784, "one who has a taste for (something)," from French amateur "lover of," from Latin amatorem (nominative amator) "lover," agent noun from amatus, past participle of amare "to love" (see Amy).

Yet in English, this has taken the connotation of unprofessional (as in, not done for money) and, from there, even inept or unskillful.

In Romanian, the word "amator" preserves the meaning from the etymolgy, meaning somebody who enjoys doing something. Someone can even walk around with a wine bottle, asking "Cine e amator?, meaning, "who [cine] is [e] up for doing this [amator]/who wants to do this?", in this case meaning "who is up for some wine?"

I wanted to post a partial answer to a StackOverflow question, saying it is "for future *amateurs", i.e., for people in the future who will enjoy tackling the question and can thus use my answer as a jumping-off point. Yet this would sound weird and perhaps even taunting, which is not my intention.

What would the equivalent word in English be - someone who enjoys doing something - even if it doesn't come from the same Latin root? There are various "...(o)phile" words but they are all specific - is there a general term that would be apt here?

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Both aficionado and devotee refer (in Merriam-Webster's wording) to "a person who likes, knows about, and appreciates a usu. fervently pursued interest or activity." There is no implication that such a person is professionally interested in the fervently pursued activity, although some form of monetary interest may be involved. – Sven Yargs Feb 23 at 8:19
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hobbiest? ​ ​ ​ – Ricky Demer Feb 23 at 10:09
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"Electronics used to have a lot of amateurs, but now we don't hear about them much, because they just can't compete." Actually pretty much the opposite is true. Amateur and hobbyist electronics is more popular than ever. The hobbyist market is huge. electronics. – barbecue Feb 23 at 18:19
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FYI: It's not a description (and not an english.SE answer) but the stackexchange technique for a partial answer you want others to help with/add to is community wiki – dave_thompson_085 Feb 23 at 19:03
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While I acknowledge that amateur can have a negative connotation, I feel compelled to point out that it has NOT lost the original meaning: "lover of". Indeed would a lover of fine wine be expected to be a professional wine taster? Conversely, wikipedia is edited by a bunch of amateurs and they did a good enough job to put professionals out of business. Don't underestimate amateurs. For they have nothing better to do. – CandiedOrange Feb 24 at 4:03

12 Answers 12

up vote 198 down vote accepted

Enthusiast does not connote unskillful, though it may retain the "non-professional" connotation of amateur:

a : one who is ardently attached to a cause, object, or pursuit
b : one who tends to become ardently absorbed in an interest (MW)

a person who is filled with enthusiasm for some principle, pursuit, etc.; devotee: a sports enthusiast. (RH)

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Sample usage: "English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts". :) – anotherdave Feb 24 at 20:40
    
Sometimes used as "amateur enthusiast" – DCShannon Feb 25 at 5:29

A possibly useful word for your case is hobbyist.

A hobbyist is someone who is interested or engaged with a field but specifically as a hobby and not a professional pursuit. It lacks the negative connotations of amateur, instead it has a casual implication.

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Aficionado - usually used by people who are professionals as a compliment to someone who is an amateur but is well versed in the subject. I was once called a "lock aficionado" by a locksmith, and a "stats aficionado" by a statistician. Sven mentioned it in a comment, and I think really this is the correct answer.

Dilettante - Another option, and can be used either positively or negatively depending on the context, but unlike aficionado the subject is rarely prefixed. For example, in an art gallery - "You seem to know a lot about Monet - do you paint yourself?" "Oh no, i'm just a Dilettante!". Or "I really like astrophysics, even though I don't own a telescope. I suppose you could call me a dilettante." In the harder sciences this can be used mockingly though.

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Hmmm I really like aficionado! It even means "amateur" in Spanish. That being said, "for future enthusiasts" does sound better than "for future aficionados" – Claudiu Feb 23 at 13:36
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Ah, well, the issue with that sentence is the structure. It's ambiguous because it could be read as "people who will one day become enthusiasts/aficionados" (but reading it right now) - like aspiring to become enthusiasts - or is could be read as "for enthusiasts/aficionados, reading it in the future", which is what you're going for. Better as "For all those enthusiasts/aficionados out there reading this in the future..." or "For future reference to any xyz enthusiasts/aficionados..." :) – J.J Feb 23 at 13:48
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In my experience "dilettante" is almost always a pejorative term, implying that you aren't actually interested enough in the topic to spend any significant time on it, let alone develop deep understanding of it. – David K Feb 23 at 19:17
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I see "dilettante" as basically meaning "competent dabbler". Whether it's pejorative or not depends on how someone sees their level of effort: if they see themselves as a half-hearted dabbler and they know they lack formal knowledge, you might be seen as complementing their competence; if it's their passion to which they dedicate hours of practice, you're definitely insulting their dedication. Also, @Claudiu, "for aspiring aficionados" sounds good :-) – user568458 Feb 24 at 10:50
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upvoted for aficionado, not dilettante -- the latter has a value judgement attached of someone who is not serious (although I think enthusiast is better still as it's a more familiar word) – Vroo Feb 25 at 18:00

aspiring would be great in this context, referring to one who hopes to achieve some position or skill. The word connotes someone who would have "amateur" abilities in a given topic.

from aspire (dictionary.reference.com)

Aspire verb (used without object), aspired, aspiring. 1. to long, aim, or seek ambitiously; be eagerly desirous, especially for something great or of high value (usually followed by to, after, or an infinitive)

As an adjective:

Her 18-year-old daughter, an aspiring animator, is headed for art school, she says.

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Oooh, maybe even "aspirant" then! – Claudiu Feb 23 at 19:41
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An aspirant being one who sucks at something? – Jamie Bull Feb 25 at 16:01
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In Russian "aspirant" (аспирант) stands for "PhD student". Oh well... – Evgeny Feb 26 at 9:16
    
@JamieBull I like it - a fellow cynic. :P Of course, they may suck at it, at least for now, but they've usually got some knowledge, and generally passion and interest as well. – GlennFromIowa Feb 26 at 19:07
    
@GlennFromIowa just a play on words! – Jamie Bull Feb 26 at 19:34

buff

a devotee or well-informed student of some activity or subject

Example: He's a real history buff.

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For completeness, I feel compelled to point out that in some contexts, amateur still carries the traditional ("love-based") meaning. Merriam-Webster gives the following definitions for amateur:

1 : devotee, admirer
2 : one who engages in a pursuit, study, science, or sport as a pastime rather than as a profession
3 : one lacking in experience and competence in an art or science

Most notably, amateur sports are sports whose participants are not paid, but who play "for the love of the game". Moreover, these participants can be any skill level, from beginner to world-class.

For example, it may be slightly antiquated, but there is still a large number of people who refer to the Olympics as the pinnacle of amateur sport. Obviously Olympic athletes compete at an extremely high level, equal to or very near professional.

Music is another area where amateur, depending on who is using the term and in what circumstance, could mean something like the Olympic sense (actually, very much like J.J's description of aficionado); or it could be used in a derogatory way when referring to an actual professional musician who isn't very good.

The term rank amateur, on the other hand, refers to a complete beginner or someone with low skill level. (And typically does not even imply any particular love of the endeavor.)

However, I acknowledge that amateur in common usage tends to connote unskillfulness or casualness or both, and thus usually is roughly equivalent to hobbyist. The single word that best captures the spirit of amateur in the Olympic sense is probably enthusiast.

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I thought of connoisseur. It indicates advanced knowledge, and one must deduce that great liking preceded the exacting study needed to become a connoisseur. And it avoids the potential negative of "amateur."

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Including a source for your definition would strengthen this answer. – Nathaniel Feb 24 at 12:37
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It indicates advanced knowledge -- that's not the mark of an amateur or beginner. This doesn't match the question. – Matthew Read Feb 24 at 21:35
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@MatthewRead Where does the OP ask for something like beginner? Their main issue with the word amateur is that indicates lack of skill. Depending on context it might be a valid choice. – CodesInChaos Feb 26 at 14:19

I like the word "Novice" here. It describes a user with lack of experience , but has an undertone of a interest.

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I like this answer, although I think like "amateur" itself, it requires too much thought about the deeper and historical meanings of the word. – mattdm Feb 28 at 13:50

Student has the connotation of being an amateur, while still retaining a taste or desire for that subject (at least in some cases; perhaps not for those described by the first definition below):

  1. a person formally engaged in learning, especially one enrolled in a school or college; pupil

  2. any person who studies, investigates, or examines thoughtfully

Avid invokes the passion amator seems to retain, but is an adjective meaning:

  1. showing great enthusiasm for or interest in

Combining the two in the SO example, you could indicate the answer is "For avid students...."

Your example with the wine also seems to indicate an adjective rather than a noun. Avid certainly won't work. Even a word like Enthusiastic seems somewhat contrived.

Interested is somewhat generic:

  1. having an interest in something; concerned

Further defining Interest gets us closer:

  1. the feeling of a person whose attention, concern, or curiosity is particularly engaged by something

But it conveys the right meaning if someone holding a bottle of wine asked, "Who is interested?" No professional certifications implied, nor connotations of ineptitude, even if it's not quite as passionate as amator seems to be. It also doesn't quite convey the familiarity with the subject, as interested could mean interested in getting drunk as opposed to having knowledge of and being interested in savoring and enjoying the flavor of the wine.

Avocation has the right connotation with more passion implied than interested, but I can't figure out how you'd use it in the context.

  1. something a person does in addition to a principal occupation, especially for pleasure; hobby

FWIW, in the context of the SO question referenced, I don't feel Novice, Newcomer or the like really fit the bill, as the question is quite scholarly, and would require someone pursuing the answer to have some significant existing knowledge of the subject. In the context, "For aspiring students" comes close, but may have an arrogant connotation of "keep working on it; you're not where I am yet" rather than the more generic avid or interested.

I did like the more-than-one-word answer you gave: "For people who want to figure this out...."

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One word that is coming into more common use lately is Follower

  1. someone who supports and is guided by another person or by a group, religion, etc.

  2. a person who likes and admires (someone or something) very much

  3. someone who does what other people say to do

The second meaning is what you're looking for - it carries the connotation of actively being a member of that group, but not being a particularly skilled member. It doesn't necessarily mean professional (in fact, usually it means they aren't professionally involved) but it does carry the meaning that one is very interested in the subject, but not experienced in it.

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Newcomer might do the trick. Its definition isn't exactly what you're looking for, but in an informal/somewhat conversational answer on SO, I think your point would be communicated as you intend.


EDIT

Example: For newcomers to this topic, you might enjoy reading this article I found. To me, "newcomer" implies that there people who are new to the topic but are interesting in learning more. Typically, if someone is interested in learning about something and seeking out information on their own volition, and they are new to the subject, they also typically like that subject. This is an informal use of the word and relies on its connotative aspects, but in no way would I ever interpret the word as meaning: "For people who would like to learn more, but actively dislike the subject" – if fact, as I've attempted to state, I would infer the exact opposite.

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I suppose, in the right context, this word could indeed have the meaning the OP is looking for. However, your answer isn't useful unless it explains what what context is. – user867 Feb 25 at 22:52
    
Why would this be a good choice? What about the word fits with the question? – Matt E. Эллен Mar 4 at 12:16
    
@MattE.Эллен Please see the edit I've provided, and hopefully this helps convey my original, intended meaning and usage. – JohnZ Mar 4 at 19:43

Anorak - descended from the warm but unfashionable outerwear worn by trainspotters (a group deeply interested in specific trivia, the details of railway engines and their numbers and routes)

In British slang an anorak /ˈænəræk/ is "a person who has a very strong interest, perhaps obsessive, in niche subjects."

It takes little skill or ability to note numbers, so minimal ability is required, and the person must have the patience and stoicism to stand on a possibly cold and wet railway platform for hours waiting for a train, in order to note its serial.

This answer falls down on the like component. An anorak doesn't have to like what they're doing, and instead the ability to persevere despite the conditions and dislike could be a polarising feature of an anorak.

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Doesn't this word generally bear strong negative connotations? Like "geek", before the internet came along and geeks started making all the money? – mattdm Feb 28 at 13:49

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