For example, you're a fashion designer who wants to get the opinion of both a professional and someone who doesn't know much about fashion. What's a term for the latter person?

  • Maybe "hobbyist"? – Dog Lover Jun 17 '15 at 1:05

The conventional term is layman, as ODO puts it:

  1. A person without professional or specialized knowledge in a particular subject

If you must, you can say lay person.

The original distinction is between the clergy, ordained members of a religion, and the lay or or the laity, who are unordained members. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary,

"uneducated; non-clerical," early 14c., from Old French lai "secular, not of the clergy" (Modern French laïque), from Late Latin laicus, from Greek laikos "of the people," from laos "people," of unknown origin. In Middle English, contrasted with learned, a sense revived 1810 for "non-expert."

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    Note that while "layman" and "lay person" have generalized, the term "the laity" still generally implies a religious context. – Mark Jun 17 '15 at 10:08
  • Not to be confused with lame man (an eggcorn I have seen used, somewhere on this network). – TRiG Jun 17 '15 at 13:37
  • I tend toward this answer too, though it feels awkward to me when talking about an artistic industry like fashion. I've only ever heard it used in the context of technical or scientific knowledge. – talrnu Jun 17 '15 at 15:09
  • Also, I agree with @Mark - "laity" is out. "The lay", however, is an acceptable replacement plural noun, e.g. "He simplified his vocabulary for the lay in the audience." – talrnu Jun 17 '15 at 15:13
  • @talrnu Although it's worth noting that "a lay" is also a person with whom you've had / would like to have sex, and "to get laid" is to have sex. Which is probably why, as a native speaker, I've never heard anyone use "the lay" in the context you're using it. My first parse of "He simplified his vocabulary for the lay in the audience" is way, way funnier than you had intended. – Parthian Shot Jun 18 '15 at 1:39

Layman - a person without professional or specialized knowledge in a particular subject.


It depends on how much not knowing:

  • An 'amateur': they have some hobby-level knowledge.
  • A 'novice': they have a small degree of professional knowledge. (Versus an expert or an adept, who would have a high level.)
  • A 'lay person': they have no domain knowledge at all, and would need concepts translated to other terms. (Note this originally had a religious connotation: a priest would speak to God on behalf of lay persons, or the religious but not ordained people of the community.)
  • A 'neophyte': A beginner in the domain, or a recent convert. The main point here is that they are recently of the domain. (Whereas someone might be a novice for a very long time.)
  • "lay person" is the politically correct, and best imho, term – Bohemian Jun 17 '15 at 3:22
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    "Civilian" is also sometimes used outside the military with this meaning in an informal, jokey way – user56reinstatemonica8 Jun 17 '15 at 14:23

In the context of something like software the term would be user. Here customer would be better, particularly in a construction like customer-opinion.


Plebeian or pedestrian can be used to describe someone of average or below-average competence, quality, importance, etc. in a particular subject or in general, especially in terms of culture. Beware however that these terms might be taken as derisive.

  • I think of pedestrians as people crossing the street. I have never seen it used in this way. – Rainbolt Jun 17 '15 at 19:45
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    @Rainbolt Not as a noun, perhaps. But have you never heard something described as "pedestrian" as a way of deriding that thing by calling it common / vulgar? – Parthian Shot Jun 18 '15 at 1:42
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    @talrnu No problem. Needed to edit to change my vote anyway ;) – Rainbolt Jun 18 '15 at 13:47

Maybe not quite what you want but, framed as an amateur is: a Jack of all trades, master of none. It is vernacular.

  • This isn't what the question is asking about. – curiousdannii Jun 18 '15 at 10:50

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