It seems a common enough experience for people with some expertise in some area to be frequently called upon by people they come in contact with to use their skill to help with some small thing. Is there a word or phrase that sums up this experience?


Anyone with a computer to a computer tech: "Hey do you know why my computer is doing X, and can maybe take a look at it while you are here?"

Anyone with a car problem to a car mechanic: "It's making this noise. Do you know what that is? I have it outside if you want to hear it in person."

Anyone with a physical ailment to a doctor: "My X is giving me problems like Y and Z. Do you know what that might be? Should I be worried?"

I'm looking specifically for a situation where the specialist is not intending to be performing their skill, and aren't being paid for it. Usually they are a friend or acquaintance of the person who is asking.

  • 2
    You might call it "asking the busman on holiday to drive."
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Aug 2, 2016 at 1:01
  • It's asking for free advice. Note that the presenting problems you describe aren't necessarily banal. That computer could have a nasty worm - as could the patient, and the car problem could require a full disassembly for proper diagnosis.
    – Lawrence
    Commented Aug 2, 2016 at 5:18
  • @Lawrence I think "asking for free advice" is very close to what I'm looking for, but it seems too literal, and doesn't completely capture the whole situation wherein the person is essentially being asked to apply their skill, not just offer advice. I agree that these things may not be banal in many situations.
    – shanemgrey
    Commented Aug 2, 2016 at 13:45
  • @shanemgrey In the professions, the term advice (e.g. legal advice) is actually an application of their skill, not simply generic platitudes.
    – Lawrence
    Commented Aug 2, 2016 at 23:46

4 Answers 4


When you do that, you are trying to avail yourself of someone's professional goodwill. (or take advantage of)

to avail oneself of something - "to help oneself by making use of something that is available."

  • We availed ourselves of Tom's goodwill and let him repair the fence.
  • The campers availed themselves of the first chance in a week to take a shower.

take advantage of - "to make use of for gain"

  • I am glad to have your help. I hope I am not taking advantage of you.
  • I think these capture the essence of the interaction. Maybe combined to "taking advantage of someone's professional goodwill". The word avail is missing the connotation of "taking", which I think is critical to the characterization of this interaction.
    – shanemgrey
    Commented Aug 2, 2016 at 13:51

There are several idioms to indicate that someone can carry out a task with little effort.

For example, with one hand tied behind your back

Used to indicate that one could do something without any difficulty: I could do her job with one hand tied behind my back

Similarly, with one's eyes shut

Without having to make much effort; easily: I could do it with my eyes shut

Oxford Dictionaries Online

Neither of these idioms is restricted to experts, but it is often used in the context of asking a favor of one who has skills beyond those of the requester.

  • While these idioms are excellent for describing the level of the specialist's skill, I'm looking for something that describes the interaction between the requestor and the specialist.
    – shanemgrey
    Commented Aug 2, 2016 at 13:46
  • Sounds a bit like noblesse oblige, but referring to the skilled rather than the rich.
    – bib
    Commented Aug 2, 2016 at 17:26

I was thinking that "called out of retirement" could be used here. Of course, the phrase would have a humorous slant in this context.

I can't think of anything more specific for the moment, but if I do, I will edit this answer to match.


I describe the poor person's job as an "overqualified volunteer". Until the person learns, for instance, ten reasons not to fix computers for free and teaches relatives to Never Ask Friends or Family to Fix Your Computer. Risks are similar in other domains (medicine, car repair).

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.