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I wonder how the following words for describing someone who knows many different things compare, and when to use which word. Some are adjectives, others are nouns:

  • renaissance
  • polymath
  • versatile
  • aficionado
  • ... (possibly others if you don't hesitate to mention)

Some background:

  1. I encountered "aficionado" and "versatile" from a personal description here

    "It's getting harder and harder for me to believe that you're just a hobbyist. Aficionado would be a better term. And a damn versatile one at that!"

  2. When I told some American I hoped to be polymath, he said they would use "Renaissance" instead.
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@Theta30: Likely. What about "Renaissance man" then? –  Tim Jan 13 '12 at 5:50
    
You should have looked these words up in OALD and also googled them for more info. Each one is fit in its context, in its own way. –  Kris Jan 13 '12 at 6:53

2 Answers 2

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Renaissance is usually talked about in relation with the Renaissance Period. Though it may be used in this sense, I guess, but I am not sure if it is advisable.

Polymath is adequate. But please note that it usually implies that a person is an expert in several different subjects, you cannot become a polymath if you only know many subjects. Also, polymath is also used for someone who is very knowledgeable, which in this case is also applicable, so another +1 for Polymath.

Versatile is defined as begin capable of or adapted for turning easily from one to another of various tasks, fields of endeavor etc. So basically it means a person who is adaptable, can easily do tasks of a different nature. It may be used in this case, but note it, by using it you will be praising the adaptability of the person instead of his knowledge.

Aficionado is someone who is very knowledgeable and an expert in a subject. But in this case you are only referring to the person's expertise in one subject. It isn't usually used when talking about a person's skills in many subjects, which is the case.

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When I told some American I wished to be polymath, he said they would use "Renaissance" instead. –  Tim Jan 13 '12 at 5:25
    
I encountered "Afrionado" and "versatile" from a personal description here –  Tim Jan 13 '12 at 5:27
    
Well, the only uses I know of "Renaissance" are either related to rebirth / revival, or the Renaissance Period. But different countries use words differently, I only know British English, so I am not sure about how Americans use the word "Renaissance". –  ApprenticeHacker Jan 13 '12 at 5:31
    
Aficionado usual infers a hobby or personal-lifelong-passion level interest, not merely a professional day job interest in a subject area. An aficionado of World War 1 history is not likely to be a World War 1 History Professor, but rather is a regular guy with a history-buff hobby. –  Warren P Feb 15 '12 at 21:40
    
@IntermediateHacker: Someone with only a superficial understanding of the Renaissance Period (gained primarily by being interested in Leonardo out of teenage mutant ninja turtles, perhaps) might suppose that the defining characteristic of the age was that everyone then was knowledgeable about everything. –  FumbleFingers Feb 15 '12 at 22:42

Really, the word "Renaissance" should be replaced with the term "Renaissance Man". Because in American English the word "Renaissance" means the same thing both in denotation and connotation as it does in British English. Which, of course, has nothing in and of itself to do with an appraisal of expertise. However, the term "Renaissance Man" refers to a cultured man who has "acquired profound knowledge or proficiency in more than one field." (dictionary.com) Quintessential examples of this would be Leonardo da Vinci (artist/anatomist/visionary) or Benjamin Franklin (printer/writer/statesman/diplomat/scientist/inventor).

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