What do you call a person who learned something a long time ago and now is at the same level in that skill as a beginner would be?

Guy isn't a novice. He isn't a veteran either. He was proficient in the skill long time back and can quickly (faster than a beginner for sure) get to the same proficiency level again, given sufficient resources.

Update: I'm looking for a formal word. Rusty suggested by Dan is perfect. So is old hand. Is there a word that can used to describe the above person in a professional context?

  • 39
    Guy is rusty.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Mar 16, 2016 at 2:05
  • 1
    @DanBron: I completely agree. Is there a formal substitute for rusty? Commented Mar 16, 2016 at 2:27
  • 7
    'Out of practice' might work for you.
    – JEL
    Commented Mar 16, 2016 at 7:37
  • 2
    @Mari-LouA I think the OP wants to describe an old-timer who's forgotten more than the young 'uns have learnt (unfortunately including the job's skill-set in the forgotten part), but who can pick it up again quickly. Hence rusty.
    – Lawrence
    Commented Mar 16, 2016 at 13:23
  • 1
    If the future "employee" had several years of experience in the trade, he is still experienced, if several years have passed since he was last employed, then I'd say "formerly skilled / trained", "semi-skilled", or "in need of retraining". Is the person a labourer, an ex-player, an artisan, a paraprofessional? More context is needed!
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Mar 16, 2016 at 13:36

11 Answers 11


The OP has asked me to post my comment as an answer.

If the future employee had several years of experience in the trade, he is still experienced; if several years have passed since he was last employed, then I'd say “formerly skilled”, “previously trained”, “semi-skilled”, or “in need of retraining”.

If you remain an [software] engineer until retirement then you need to be prepared to constantly learn new tools and techniques in order to remain relevant. Generally speaking, you will need to be able to fully retrain yourself roughly every 4 to 6 years (while still working full-time). The only way to do that without burning out is to love what you do.

Source: Quora

  • The link is broken by the way. I reach to a page which is not available to me. Commented Mar 17, 2016 at 1:17
  • @displayName Weird, it's working for me, and it's the same link in the comment as well. Page 171 in Employment and Opportunity By Geoffrey Payne. Try typing the expression "formerly skilled" in the search box. However it's formerly that I imagine interests you most.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Mar 17, 2016 at 7:07
  • 1
    Seems there are perhaps too many direct clicks from SE to google as there was an error message to that effect. copy/paste the url into a new tab worked.
    – Ian W
    Commented Mar 17, 2016 at 9:17
  • The link didn't work for me either, unless it was opened in a new tab. Perhaps it would be good if the source was quoted and cited in the answer?
    – Charon
    Commented Mar 17, 2016 at 9:55
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    @displayName The link didn't work for me either, but Google allowed me to view the page once I changed the domain from books.google.co.uk to books.google.com. This is the link that worked for me. I don't know exactly how it works, but I think sometimes certain links to Google Books only work in some regions.
    – user28567
    Commented Mar 20, 2016 at 3:09

In England we would simply say he was out of practice.

This meets your requirements perfectly: it expresses that the person is not currently proficient, but that they used to be, and that their current lack of aptitude is simply a result of having not practised, rather than through any shortcomings that they might have. It is therefore very polite.

out of practice: not currently proficient in a particular activity or skill through not having exercised or performed it for some time.

"he was out of practice at interrogation"

synonyms: rusty, unpractised

Source: Oxford Dictionaries (accessed March 16, 2016)

  • 11
    This phrase is used in exactly the same way in America as well.
    – Jander
    Commented Mar 16, 2016 at 21:50

This person can be called an erstwhile expert, which suggests that the person used to be proficient, but is currently not anymore.

erstwhile - former; of times past (dictionary.com)

  • 1
    That's a pretty uncommon word though, a lot of people wouldn't understand it.
    – Tim B
    Commented Mar 18, 2016 at 10:48
  • I don't think it's particularly uncommon. I'd consider a native speaker who didn't know the word to be pretty poorly-read. For instance, here are three NYT articles containing erstwhile from the past three months: * nytimes.com/2016/01/07/opinion/… * nytimes.com/2016/02/17/fashion/grammy-awards-fashion.html * nytimes.com/2016/03/04/fashion/… Commented Mar 20, 2016 at 2:28
  • That said, I'm not 100% on board with using "erstwhile" or "former" or anything of the kind here, because it doesn't really communicate why the person used to be an expert -- did the subject matter change? Did he turn out to be a charlatan? Has he died? Commented Mar 20, 2016 at 2:30

One word often used is lapsed.

This is particularly used for professions where certification is required to practice and a regular test or experience is required to retain the certificate. A lapsed indivdual has the experience but must resit the examination to practice.

The word is also used in a religious context for people who no longer follow a particular church.


A person regressed or experienced regression.

  • This is an interesting suggestion, but you don't provide any explanation—authoritative or otherwise—of why regressed/regression might be a good choice. To strengthen your answer, please consider adding a dictionary for one or both words, along with a citation of the source and, if possible, a link to it.
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Mar 19, 2016 at 1:34

false beginner might fit what you're looking for.

If you are a beginner or a false beginner, you must acquire first the basic notions which will allow you to reach the intermediate level.


We also say false beginner for a language student who has forgotten much of what s/he previously learned.

A remedial learner might be another way to express this. (emphasis is mine.)


  • I've never heard that expression. Perhaps it's a UK term? I'm from the Midwest - USA.
    – Elby Cloud
    Commented Mar 22, 2016 at 20:50
  • @ElbyCloud Is Virginia Piedmont & Washington, DC located in the UK? ;-)
    – Elian
    Commented Mar 22, 2016 at 22:02

Rusty (suggested by @Dan Bron) or out of practice (@Charon's answer) both describe someone who was once skilled in a field, but has not used those skills and may need to brush up on them or to be retrained (@Mary-Lou A's answer).

If the field requires some type of professional certification, which the person used to have, his or her certification may have lapsed (@Chenmunka's answer) and he or she would need to be re-certified.

When the field itself is outdated, the person's skills are antiquated (@sthede's answer), but the person may still be proficient.

These may all be used in professional contexts.


If Guy is in the process of brushing up his skills in order to compete at his former level, we say he is "going for/working towards 'a comeback' "


Depending on the trade, uncertified or perhaps certifiable might work. These would both imply that knowledge exists, but proficiency is lacking or at least has not been tested.


The persons skill set is antiquated.

antiquated: old-fashioned or outdated. "this antiquated central heating system" synonyms: outdated, out of date, outmoded, outworn, old, stale, behind the times, old-fashioned, anachronistic, old-fangled, antique, antediluvian, passé, démodé, obsolete;

  • 1
    There is nothing in the OP's question that implies either the skill or the person is out of date or antiquated. For example the last time I played the violin since about 30 years ago, and I certainly haven't forgotten how to do it, but I would need to do some serious practice if I started again. But there is nothing particularly "antiquated" about either myself, or the art of violin-playing.
    – alephzero
    Commented Mar 17, 2016 at 5:16
  • Take the case of a computer programmer, perhaps the programmer learned how to make web pages 20 years ago, and used Notepad for all his development. The programmer knows how to build a page, but the level at which the person develops for example is antiquated. An understanding of the requirements, but an out-dated method of implementing or acting on those skills. A wood-worker using a chisel instead of a router, his skill set could be called antiquated. The person was referred to as: 'a person who learned something a long time ago'. I think that implies the skills are old.
    – sthede
    Commented Apr 6, 2016 at 3:58

Guy may well have perfectly-retained skills from a time when the requirements were different. Someone who was an excellent typist in 1980, for example, would need to learn a variety of contemporary computer skills just to match a beginner now.

In this case, Guy's skills could be called precursory.
They are precursors — forerunners or earlier versions — of up-to-date skills.

precursory – adj. – Preceding something in time, development, or position.

precursor – noun – A person or thing that comes before another of the same kind; a forerunner.


As used at nytimes.com:

... and the rebec, a three-stringed precursor of the violin.

A note of caution:  Precursory might actually be too formal because many people will mistake it to only mean undeveloped.

  • All skills that can be improved are by definition precursors of the improved skills. This says absolutely nothing about the regression. Commented Mar 19, 2016 at 8:34
  • The answer has been clarified
    – lauir
    Commented Mar 19, 2016 at 10:59

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