I would like to know if autodidact has a positive, negative, or neutral connotation behind it.

These questions asking about usage imply:

A neutral connotation:

A positive connotation:

A (slight) negative connotation:

  • How are you using it? Commented Feb 21, 2014 at 15:21
  • 1
    I'm not. I ran across it in a question on Programmers. My initial take is that it was used in an ambiguous context. I couldn't tell if they were trying to dish out a left-handed compliment or they were "merely stating facts"
    – user20511
    Commented Feb 21, 2014 at 15:22
  • Answering the last example, If you have to ask . . .
    – David M
    Commented Feb 21, 2014 at 15:29
  • @DavidM - this is the sentence. "I believe the framework was developed internally because the engineer in question is an autodidact, and that at this time he didn't knew a framework which will satisfy his need." And I don't mean to derail my primary question, but my initial take was negative and then mollified to neutral.
    – user20511
    Commented Feb 21, 2014 at 15:35
  • 1
    I meant, if you have to ask if it's too big of a word to use on your resume . . . it is. ;-)
    – David M
    Commented Feb 21, 2014 at 16:03

2 Answers 2


I think you've answered your own question above. It largely has to do with context. There is certainly no inherent connotation to the word other than self-taught.

There are definitely situations where being self-taught is positive, negative, and neutral.

For instance: A 15 year-old piano prodigy being an autodidact has an extremely positive connotation. (Some would call him a genius . . .)

A neurosurgeon who is an autodidact, well, that might be construed as negative. (Most would call him a criminal.)

I'm a serious amateur photographer who is an autodidact. I'd say it's fairly neutral. (The judgement would be withheld pending the quality of my work.)

Note I strongly prefer self-taught in my own usage.

  • Why is a "neurosurgeon who is an autodidact" bad?
    – Pacerier
    Commented Jun 8, 2015 at 19:36

To answer based on the usage I would say it has a slight negative connotation. First, this is not an informal word I would hear in a conversation. Second, if I were "self-taught", then using the word to reference myself is kind of like saying, "Not only am I self-taught, but I know big words too."

  • I don't know that this negative connotation is inherent to the word itself. Rather, it is your perception of the usage of a "big-word" that has the negative connotation (I'm not saying I like it, either . . .). If you read the word autodidact written about someone else, I don't know that you'd have the same reaction.
    – David M
    Commented Feb 21, 2014 at 15:28
  • It is the word that would rub me a certain way. Who would use that word to describe them self? Commented Feb 21, 2014 at 15:32
  • I don't disagree that self-taught is more pleasant. (I refrained from using mellifluous here, so as to avoid rubbing you any way . . .) But, I don't think the word impacts negatively on the person you use it to describe. I think that is the meaning of connotation in this case. As is said, "Big words, small mind." But, I don't think the poor guy you hang this label on is any worse for wear.
    – David M
    Commented Feb 21, 2014 at 16:01
  • @DavidM - Your last comment, is my whole point. Commented Feb 21, 2014 at 16:02
  • I agree with you on that front. But, again, I think it's not a connotation. Rather, you just dislike the word.
    – David M
    Commented Feb 21, 2014 at 16:05

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