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I would like to exclaim, "How curious you are!" But this exclamation has an unfortunate ambiguity. It can either mean "curious" in the sense of a desire to learn. Or it can mean "curious" in the sense of being odd.

There are three words I know of that describe a desire to learn, and they differ in their impertinence. "Curious" is a neutral term. "Inquisitive" suggests a slight impertinence. "Prying" suggests a serious impertinence.

Of the three, curious best describes a healthy desire to learn. But it does have the ambiguity of its other meaning, "odd". Is there another word that describes the former sense, unambiguously?

Is there a clearer way to express my initial exclamation? "How curious you are!"

  • desire to learn – Drew Mar 14 '17 at 1:17
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    inquisitive; having an inquiring mind – Xanne Mar 14 '17 at 3:38
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You could say Your enthusiasm is remarkable!

Enthusiasm: absorbing or controlling possession of the mind by any interest or pursuit; lively interest (Dictionary.com #1)

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    This is good, but does not express a desire to learn new things. It could just as well apply to playing soccer as learning chess. – ktm5124 Mar 13 '17 at 23:59
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The OP asks,

how to express healthy curiosity, unambiguously?

The OP assumes that curious, meaning a desire to learn, is neutral. I disagree. Curious (in this meaning) can be positive, neutral, mildly negative or very negative. Which will be conveyed by the context, if written or the tone, if spoken.

There is no single word, which by itself, will unambiguously express a healthy desire to learn. If written, the context must clarify what is meant by curious. If spoken, the tone and manner will clarify what is meant.

For example (written):

Jane wants to major in physics. She will succeed because she is good at math, and, more importantly, because she is curious about everything.

This is very different from writing:

Jane is curious; she never smiles.

Example (spoken)

"How curious you are!"

This statement can be approving or disapproving, depending on the tone. If spoken coldly with a disdainful expression on her face, the speaker is saying: "How nosy you are!" If said with a pleasant laugh it can mean "How odd you are!", and if said with an unpleasant laugh it can mean "How nosy you are!" If the speaker means it as a compliment, she will probably add something: "How curious you are! You are interested in everything!"

The OED says, of curious:

Desirous of seeing or knowing; eager to learn; inquisitive. Often with condemnatory connotation: Desirous of knowing what one has no right to know, or what does not concern one, prying. (The current subjective sense.)

The OED also has a definition of curious meaning odd, but the principal ambiguity in speech will be between healthy curiosity and nosiness.

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studious adjective (LEARNING) (Cambridge Dictionary) ​

A studious person enjoys studying or spends a lot of time studying:

She was a studious child, happiest when reading.

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