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According to dictionary, a dabbler is "an amateur who engages in an activity without serious intentions and who pretends to have knowledge".

I want a word that means a person genuinely interested in something, wishing to learn more, but currently not having much knowledge about it and not able to make it their primary activity.

I used to use the word "dabbler" for this meaning but I recently discovered it has the above-mentioned negative connotation. What is the word that I should be using instead?

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Which dictionary did you get that definition from? I'm not aware that dabbler includes any connotations of [one] who pretends to have knowledge. Quite the reverse, in fact, since when people say "I'm just a dabbler" this invariably means "I'm interested [in this subject], but I have no formal knowledge or training in it". –  FumbleFingers Dec 21 '12 at 18:36
    
@FumbleFingers, I googled "define:dabbler". Sorry for not including that in the question. Let me know if I should add this information to the question. –  missingfaktor Dec 21 '12 at 19:21
    
I think in general we would always like you to include information like that. In this particular case I'm quite surprised to see that the definition you quoted does indeed come out on the top result. In my opinion, it's misleading, if not just plain wrong. –  FumbleFingers Dec 21 '12 at 21:29

4 Answers 4

The word nearest to what you’re looking for might be amateur, although an amateur can sometimes have a great deal of knowledge about the chosen subject or activity.

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I think amateur is right because its root is the Latin verb amo i.e. to love. The trouble is that we tend to see amateur these days as meaning unprofessional/incompetent whereas it simply means that for the person in question the activity is a labour of love i.e. what the OP means. –  Simon Hoare Dec 23 '12 at 18:02
    
@Simon Hoare. True, but, as always, the intended meaning will usually be clear from the context. One way of distingushing between professional and amateur is to say that professionals perform an activity for other people, while amateurs do so for themselves. –  Barrie England Dec 23 '12 at 18:04

Amateur, nonprofessional, beginner, and novice are four possibilities without negative connotations. The first two are subject to the caveat in Barrie's answer, but the second two are not: they mean that the person "currently does not have much knowledge" about the subject. Whether it can become someone's primary activity may be a function of financial resources rather than expertise, so that doesn't figure into the word choice.

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enthusiast

enthusiast: /enˈTHo͞ozēˌast/ noun (OxfordDictionaries Online)
a person who is highly interested in a particular activity or subject: a sports car enthusiast

... "enthusiasts" are adventurous, constantly busy with many activities with all the energy and enthusiasm... (Wikipedia)

en·thu·si·ast (Merriam-Webster)
b : one who tends to become ardently absorbed in an interest: skiing enthusiasts can't wait for the first snowfall of the season

An enthusiast can be understood as a -buff (informal), an expert on or devotee of a given subject: a movie buff; a photography buff

I think enthusiast fits perfectly for someone "genuinely interested in something, wishing to learn more, but currently not having much knowledge about it and not able to make it their primary activity."

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I think the word hobbyist fits the definition and connotation you describe. It is defined as:

Noun: a person who pursues an activity in their spare time for pleasure

And hobby is defined as:

An activity or interest pursued outside one's regular occupation and engaged in primarily for pleasure.

Therefore, a hobbyist is engaged in something that they pursue with great interest in their free time; it is not their primary activity. I don't think it has any negative connotations, unless perhaps when a professional in the area of interest wants to disparage someone by calling them a hobbyist.

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