I need a word/phrase/idiom (either adjective or noun) to describe somebody who has devoted their life to practising something but is still not very good at it.


Look at Uncle, practised music all his life and still not very good at it: he is __________ (adjective) or he is a _________ (noun)

Please note that the person has shown great interest and committment over a lifetime but possibly lacked the special skill or talent required to really excel at their chosen field.

Note 2: failure, misfit, disappointment, ordinary, poor and mediocre are not a good fit for the word I am seeking, but the case of mediocre professional musicians was the sad reality that prompted my question.

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    I can't see how you could say it in one word. I might incline to something like "He played the piano with less skill than resolve".
    – WS2
    Commented Oct 10, 2017 at 19:54
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    One word is not mandatory @WS2. I was looking for a descriptive phrase or idiom. 'Less skill than resolve' is a good choice and there are a few others along those lines that I am trying to remember. Commented Oct 10, 2017 at 19:58
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    – MetaEd
    Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 18:49
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    A fairly good non offensive word would be mediocre."of only average quality; not very good." He is mediocre. Commented Oct 12, 2017 at 10:42
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    Mediocre is the most basic, 'bread and butter' description @Mazura. Unfortunately this adjective does not really reflect the years of effort that went into practising that skill, I think. Commented Oct 13, 2017 at 1:37

27 Answers 27


I'd suggest Manqué, a somewhat uncommon term borrowed from French. Wikipedia describes it thus:

Manqué (feminine, manquée) is a term used in reference to a person who has failed to live up to a specific expectation or ambition. It is usually used in combination with a profession: for example, a career civil servant with political prowess who nonetheless never attained political office might be described as a "politician manqué". It can also be used relative to a specific role model; a second-rate method actor might be referred to as a "Marlon Brando manqué".

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    Extremely apt if rather uncommon -- thanks for introducing me to this term @Stephen! Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 9:30


(of a person) unable to follow or be successful in a particular career. "a frustrated actor" - dictionary.com

My father always called himself a "frustrated musician". He was a physicist and loved music, but in his opinion, his love for it exceeded his talent. Though, to be fair, he was the first person who could get a sound out of my didgeridoo the first time he held it to his lips.

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    Yes, a good description and rather sad too; +1 and thanks @LindaCamillo! Commented Oct 10, 2017 at 20:12
  • I didn't mean it to be sad -- he was a humble person and was much better at music than he let on. Thank you @EnglishStudent! Commented Oct 10, 2017 at 20:15
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    Note too you have included another apt expression that fits my case: "his love/ passion/ committment far exceeded his talent." Commented Oct 10, 2017 at 21:34
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    Frustrated musician/artist is also used when the subject has tried to pursue the art as a professional, but bad luck (e.g. a series of attempts to get a record contract) wore them out. Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 23:07
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    @cardiffspaceman I agree. "Frustrated" has a strong connotation of external factors or fortuitous events outside the person's control are the culprits of a less than stellar career, and the use case in the original question is more about a person doing everything in his power to pursue an interest and having not much to show for it at the end
    – hlecuanda
    Commented Oct 12, 2017 at 7:21

This is likely to require a lookup, but it's an easy one and the meaning (and connotation!) are unambiguous: a Florence Foster Jenkins.

Wikipedia has a good overview; she was someone who wanted to be an opera singer since she was a child, rich enough that nobody was willing to tell her that she wasn't any good, and determined enough that at age 76 she rented Carnegie Hall for her only public performance. She's been described as "the world's worst opera singer".

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    Very interesting reference, and very appropriate as well -- after reading Wikipedia I should also admire the lady's extraordinary determination to live her dream career -- moreover, the reference seems obscure enough to the modern lay person that if used as a criticism the recipient will hopefully not understand the significance: thanks for educating me @chrylis! Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 2:00
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    @EnglishStudent FFJ's life's ambition was recently made into a movie starring Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant, so I suspect moviegoers (Americans and British) and cinephiles will easily get the reference.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 10:32
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    "People may say I can't sing," she once remarked to a friend, "but no one can ever say I didn't sing." I like this woman.
    – Flater
    Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 11:31

A life time practising and he's just a flop.

Oxford Definition :

Informal (of a performer or show) be completely unsuccessful; fail totally. ‘the show flopped in London’

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    This is the best answer. Frustrated can be mistaken for emotion, Manque and Florence Foster Jenkins are likely to mean nothing to most people, talentless has no connotation of it being a career or over time. Flop has the connotation of long-term failure in the context of a career.
    – kettlecrab
    Commented Oct 12, 2017 at 21:33
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    But I think that competent actors/directors/writers/etc. can have random flops despite generally excelling otherwise.
    – Sparhawk
    Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 11:58
  • Is flop ever used to indicate a person though? I've only seen it used for performances, releases and ventures. Things, not people.
    – Mast
    Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 14:07
  • @Mast The Oxford definition (above) includes the word 'performer'. I have edited to make that clearer.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 14:11
  • Ah, not going to argue with the Oxford, thanks for clearing that up.
    – Mast
    Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 14:15

May I suggest the following,


the term by itself will not imply that the person has struggled to achieve their heart's desire but it will suggest they are trying and they have as yet to reach that pinnacle.

Look at Uncle, the would-be pianist, he's practised music all his life and he's still not very good.

Merriam-Webster defines it as

:desiring, intending, professing, or having the potential to be
a would-be actor

Oxford Dictionaries say:

Desiring or aspiring to be a specified type of person
• ‘So, once again, I would caution would-be writers against excessive length.’

If I wanted to emphasize the person's unsuccessful bid, I might add

a failed would-be

There aren't as many hits on either Google or Google Books, but that is to be expected, it is not a complimentary term, and it is slightly unwieldy.

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    'Would be' is quite good enough in context, and 'failed' makes it final, thanks @Mari-lou A -- now you have suggested another good possibility within a definition you quoted: 'aspiring' is ironic indeed when the person has been aspiring for 2 decades! 2 other expressions that come to mind (usually used in sports context) are 'lacklustre performance' and "yet to get out of first gear." Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 12:39
  • @EnglishStudent ‘aspiring’ is a great word, it is closely connected to ‘inspire’, and to ‘respire’, which also means: • recover hope, courage, or strength after a time of difficulty. However, it lacks that essential "dashed hopes/dreams" aspect that your question demands.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 12:40
  • Yes indeed @Mari-lou A -- 'aspiring' is more ironic than a proper description of the situation. One of the best suggestions here was the one by 1006a (perennial journeyman) -- I also heard somewhere 'always an apprentice.' Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 12:42

It might be best not to overthink it. A talent is a person's natural aptitude or ability for something, so someone who lacks this ability is talentless.

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    "It might be best not to overthink it" __ thanks for reminding; so 'talentless' or 'lacks talent' is absolutely right on target @AffableAmbler! I upvotes. That puts me in mind of this rather commonly heard expression: quora.com/… Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 2:09
  • Or "ungifted" / "lacked the gift", etc
    – Mawg
    Commented Oct 13, 2017 at 9:25
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    talentless is quite strong - ungifted may be more friendly. Many people do things who are ungifted, adequate for common use (playing at open-mic night, local club, etc) though they are not talentless. A sports player to makes it through college on a scholarship may be talented, yet ungifted and never make it to the pros.
    – MikeP
    Commented Oct 13, 2017 at 17:56

How about this?

"He is still an amateur, and all his hard work and practice have come to naught."


“He is an amateur, and despite all his practice, his skills are still bush league.”

  • "despite all his practice, still an amateur" is very appropriate to my situation; thanks @Headblender. Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 0:31
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    'Amateur' is a tricky word. The early scientists were 'amateurs', they had the leisure and resources to pursue pure science rather than being forced to make a living by getting their hands dirty with engineering! And for a long time amateur sportsmen were considered superior, morally and even sometimes in practice - the 'Gentlemen' often beat the 'Players' at cricket. Maybe make your attitude to 'amateur' clear. 'Despite years of work, he remained irredeemably amateur.'
    – Laurence
    Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 11:43
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    Amateur has 2 relevant meanings (A) Someone who pursues a study or sport as a pastime [ might be he is very good at it , but it is not his profession ] & (B) Someone who is unqualified or not skillful enough [ the meaning required by @EnglishStudent ] ; but there is another word which has only the second negative meaning : amateurish. My suggestion : "Despite all his practice, he is still amateurish."
    – Prem
    Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 14:39
  • Very pertinent point @Laurence Payne! Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 16:47
  • You are right: 'amateurish' is the most appropriate form of the word for my situation @Prem. Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 16:48

You might consider this noun phrase, or something like it:

Perpetual novice

This phrase is sometimes used in the field of software development (and possibly elsewhere) to refer to someone who has acquired plenty of experience without acquiring the high level of skill that is expected to come with the experience. An example of this usage is in the title of the blog post "perpetual novice – years of experience vs skill".

Novice (or a word with similar meaning such as beginner, neophyte, or apprentice) implies someone who is trying to learn something in which they are not yet expert. Like most of its synonyms, novice also implies that someone is new to this field of endeavor, so the word perpetual makes the phrase an oxymoron. The perpetual novice may put in many years of earnest effort but will never become an expert.


Perhaps perennial also-ran would work for you. Per Oxford Dictionaries, an also-ran can be

1.1. informal An undistinguished or unsuccessful person or thing.

The term often collocates with perennial, meaning

  1. Lasting or existing for a long or apparently infinite time; enduring or continually recurring.
    . . .
    1.2. attributive (of a person) apparently permanently engaged in a specified role or way of life.

As a whole, the phrase suggests someone who keeps training and showing up for the competition, but who never wins (or even places or shows).

So in your example:

Look at Uncle, practised music all his life and still not very good at it: he is a perennial also-ran.

If that expression sounds too harsh, a similar expression with more suggestion of success (just not total mastery) is perennial journeyman. A journeyman is

A worker or sports player who is reliable but not outstanding.

Traditionally, of course, a journeyman was a Craftsman who had served out an apprenticeship and was still honing hours or her skill on the way towards becoming a matter of the craft. So the term already implies years of hard work on a skill; modifying it with perennial (or perhaps something like perpetual) will give the clear implication that "matter" status is permanently out of reach.

This this phrase would work well if Uncle is a good enough musician to play at parties, but not brilliant enough for the concert hall or a record deal. Or if he's still pretty bad, but you want to be as kind as possible. Note, however, that this is a much rarer phrase than perennial also-ran, which is common enough that I would almost call it a fixed phrase.

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    I don't think "also-ran" is quite right here, but journeyman fits the requirements well I think., Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 7:44
  • Both 'also-ran' (but never won) and 'journeyman' are extremely appropriate here and the meaning is further clarified by 'perennial' -- genuinely good suggestions for the particular situation, +1 and thanks @1006a! Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 9:22

Enthusiastic amateur: amateur, as defined by The Free Dictionary is:

lacking professional skill or expertise. "a very amateurish job"; "inexpert but conscientious efforts"; "an unskilled painting

However, the amateur is enthusiastic, committed to practicing long hours, taking many lessons, learning difficult compositions and displaying her talents in recitals. Her art is her life. Think of Florence Foster Jenkins as played by Meryl Streep. the Enthusiastic Amateur believes in herself, even if no one else does.

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    Thanks for a really good description -- the use of 'amateur' is somewhat ironic (if technically justified) when somebody has actually trained to be a professional in the chosen field, whether music, medicine or acting but remains mediocre despite effort -- 'enthusiastic' gives it a nice qualification @ab2. Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 9:28

Many answers here are pretty good, also many of them are uncorteous in the least of cases and plain insulting, if not offensive in the worst.

Having read on the original question that the phrase would be used to offer advise or criticism to a relative, and all things being equal, you may wish to be or stay on good terms with them, a milder but no less precise word is required, and I suggest :


ˌənəˈkämpliSHt/ adjective.

  1. showing little skill.
  2. Not carried out.

Merriam Webster further adds: " lacking talent, poise, grace, or achievement"

Which seems befitting, since having practiced for a lifetime and being a person who probably wasn't negligent in his professional development and education, this word conveys the lack of something that would make him recognizable or memorable above the ordinary and everyday, but implying that whatever is missing is not his own fault or has yet to come, in order to be accomplished.

Using your example:

Look at Uncle. Practised music all his life and still not very good at it: he is an unaccomplished musician still.

Let's never forget that language is a tool for connecting with people, and people have feelings, specially about their livelihood and career choices. Advise will be more readily accepted and even appreciated if it is delivered with kind words.

Imagine someone offering you advice in the form:

Hello [someone's_name_here] Look at you, all your life practicing [occupation] and you are, to be honest, still not very good at it! You are an [unkind_suggestion], and I think you should [your_best_advise].

Try substituting [unkind_suggestion] with some of the accurate, witty and patently correct answers in this thread.

Most likely, your party will stop listening before "... and I think you should....." failing the whole purpose of communicating with someone else, even if your advise was good, pertinent, clear, pragmatic, useful, realistic and profitable.

You would have just wasted your time, lost karma and brownie points with those who disagree with you and probably this person's friendship. Not a good deal in the least.,

  • Thanks for suggesting a very neutral term @hlecuanda! 'Unaccomplished' really fits the case in question. May I also clarify that this is not meant to talk about an actual person (and I have no relative who is a musician) but meant to refer to the generic case of people who devote their life to learning something (medicine/ law/ music/ politics) but they are still not very good at it. Music was just the example thst motivated my question, and your answer is very much appreciated. Commented Oct 12, 2017 at 1:47
  • My pleasure! I was a bit unsettled because many of the answers, although precise and correct, completely disregard the idea that language is used mainly to communicate with other people. With the exception of technical fields, where being correct, precise and unambiguous is paramount, we should take care which words we choose to communicate, so as to not sow discord, resentment or hurtfulness. There are plenty of people in positions of power already taking care of that, so why join their destructive efforts? The proverbial Grandma's advise applies here: "If you can't say something nice...." =)
    – hlecuanda
    Commented Oct 12, 2017 at 2:38
  • Very true @hlecuanda. I know a teacher who used to say, speak nice or be silent. Communication is the primary purpose of language. A secondary purpose is definition and clarification of concepts. In this particular case, the purpose wasn't communication and especially not criticism of real persons, but that I was seeking a word or phrase which clarifies my own internal concept of a person who devoted his life to something and is still not good enough -- how he will feel and how others will think of him -- for which your suggestion 'unaccomplished' is a neutral description that fits the case. Commented Oct 12, 2017 at 2:54
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    I think "stubbornly unaccomplished" adds a little bit of cheek to your excellent answer Commented Oct 12, 2017 at 14:28

To me, this seems like a hack



noun 1. a person, as an artist or writer, who exploits, for money, his or her creative ability or training in the production of dull, unimaginative, and trite work; one who produces banal and mediocre work in the hope of gaining commercial success in the arts: As a painter, he was little more than a hack.

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    Thanks for reminding, @Scott Seidman -- 'hack' is really close to my meaning of 'somewhat competent, not highly skilled, not very creative.' Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 12:53
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    Be careful with this one to ensure the subject is unambiguous, as a "hack" can also refer to a particularly clever (albeit temporary) solution to a problem. As long as it's directed at a person, this answer is spot on. #EnglishIsWeird
    – Morgen
    Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 17:21

Many Adjectives Might Do

You may want to make a qualifying statement in your context to best convey this (the italicized portion). Then the word inept would work:

Look at Uncle, practised music all his life, yet inept at the finer points.

Or more drastic:

Look at Uncle, practised music all his life, yet inept at the basics.

The qualification is needed because the definition is very direct:

Having or showing no skill; clumsy.

So you need to qualify that he has been unable to obtain the "finer" aspects of the skill (or even worse, the "basics") that would be evident in a proficiency or mastery of it.

However, there still exists words that can convey the idea of not having mastery without the qualification. Some dictionaries note the word unproficient (Oxford) exists, along with inexpert (also recognized by Webster, unlike the former term as of this posting) which are adjectives that indicate not gaining a level of proficiency or expertise, while still grasping the basics (as one who studied lifelong would possess).

Look at Uncle, practised music all his life and still unproficient.

Look at Uncle, practised music all his life and still inexpert.

In a similar way, a variety of words can covey the inexpertise by referencing the commonality: average, commonplace, middle-of-the-road. The last one even states:

(of music) tuneful but somewhat bland and unadventurous


Look at Uncle, practised music all his life and still middle-of-the-road.

And then some adjectives that really have connotations of inferiority: second-rate, run-of-the-mill, tolerable.

Look at Uncle, practised music all his life and still only tolerable.

The Noun is the More Challenging

To convey the "life" concept, then maybe lifer, which has as part of the definition (Oxford):

North American A person who spends their life in a particular career, especially in one of the armed forces.

Or Webster's more generic:

a person who has made a lifelong commitment (as to a way of life)

So you could reduce the sentence to:

Look at Uncle, musically he is just a second-rate lifer.

  • Many thanks for the comprehensive answer that addresses noun and adjective separately -- I especially like 'second-rate' and 'run of the mill' @ScottS. Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 16:55

After all that time he's a nonperformer.

A person who or thing which does not perform well or as required; a person who does not live up to expectation.


One of the definitions of the noun indicates a longterm aspect, the failure to adhere to a contract, so not momentary.


  • Does that imply inability or a momentary failure?
    – user66974
    Commented Oct 10, 2017 at 19:54
  • Good suggestion, +1 @Nigel! Are you sure it's not momentary as mentioned by Josh in the first comment? Commented Oct 10, 2017 at 19:54
  • @EnglishStudent Edited to show it has longterm aspect
    – Nigel J
    Commented Oct 10, 2017 at 20:04
  • Thanks @Nigel -- you may like to look at this definition which comes directly to the performing arts and 'below expectations' aspects: en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/us/non-performer Commented Oct 10, 2017 at 20:08
  • Thanks @EnglishStudent I had it there already but I messed up the link. OK now.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Oct 10, 2017 at 20:11

He is still a nonstarter

A person or plan that has no chance of succeeding or being effective.


  • Nonstarter was in my thoughts after your own answer of 'nonperformer' -- it fits, thanks again @Nigel J! Commented Oct 10, 2017 at 21:24
  • @EnglishStudent I'm sure there's more to come. Give it time.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Oct 10, 2017 at 21:47

If you're willing to rewrite your sentence just a little bit more, you could write

... he gets an A for effort.

From the McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs (via The Free Dictionary) we have the definition

A for effort

Fig. acknowledgement for having tried to do something, even if it was not successful.

In my experience, this usually implies the result was not successful; this meaning is reflected in the definition in The Urban Dictionary.

The phrase above (with the letter "A") works well when used with an audience in the United States, since in many schools in the U.S. "high marks" is an A. If you're writing for people in countries that do not use the letter-grade system (A, B, C, etc.) to measure students' performance in school, you might write

... he gets high marks for effort.

People sometimes give an "E for effort," which means high marks to some people (who went to schools where "E" was awarded for excellent performance) but not to others.

  • "High marks for effort" is a good expression, thanks @David K! Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 0:29

In John le Carre's novel 'A Perfect Spy' the term 'nevver-wozza' is frequently used (the spelling may be a bit off, sorry, but a more correct spelling would be 'never-was-a'). IMO this is a lovely bit of slang.

It's a play on 'has-been', which is someone who was good at something in the past but is now unable to move on from those glory days. On the other hand a 'nevver'wozza' was never very good at anything no matter how much they tried or how fundamental the task was to their existence (in the novel it is often used to describe race horses).

  • "a 'nevver'wozza' was never very good at anything no matter how much they tried or how fundamental the task was to their existence" __ totally accurate definition for the situation, thanks @MattH! Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 9:11

Never was.

Similar but a non-distorted version of the answer by @MattH. Someone who hasn't achieved anything in the course of their career as suggested in the quote by C. Northcote Parkinson ~

It is better to be a 'has-been' than a 'never-was'

  • The quote makes 'never-was' a good option, thanks @mcalex. I suppose it is to be used as a noun, but a verb form is also possible as in 'top grade artist? He never was.' Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 9:09

Within the context of orchestral music (and other organisations) we have "rank-and-file", which is someone who is ok - they can play the parts, but they lack the passion or talent to excel. It's the alternative to "virtuoso", in the musical world.

There's an Italian (I think) word for a rank and file musician, which I can't put my finger on at the moment, which might work well....

  • Thank you. 'Rank and file' is the type of near-technical term that expresses my meaning neutrally @Max Williams. Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 9:18
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    There is an idiom in Spanish "ser del montón" Which translates neatly to "just someone else in the crowd" as the virtuosso stands out for his unique abilities, the "crowd" makes individuals indistinguishable, i.e. nothing special about them.
    – hlecuanda
    Commented Oct 12, 2017 at 17:21


is a pretty good word for this, except that it implies a lack of serious commitment.

However, I would venture that someone who has devoted their lives to a practice would at least be able to perform at a serviceable level, even without much aptitude. If that's not the case it's likely the person wasn't really as committed as they made themselves out to be in terms of practice .

  • This word was the first suggestion to this question, in a comment by a senior member, and it is close in meaning, thanks @aDukeZhou -- except for the 'implies a lack of serious commitment' as you yourself pointed out. However serious committment is not lacking here. Commented Oct 13, 2017 at 1:50
  • @EnglishStudent I'd tend to favor "inept" in that case. (More genteel than simply telling them they "suck";)
    – DukeZhou
    Commented Oct 13, 2017 at 16:42
  • Inept is an accurate description @DukeZhou. Commented Oct 13, 2017 at 20:39

While "amateur" has 2 relevant meanings :
(1) Someone who pursues a study or sport as a pastime [[ might be , he is very good at it , but it is not his profession ]] ,
(2) Someone who is unqualified or not skillful enough [[ the connotation or meaning required by @EnglishStudent ]] ,
there is another word which has only the second negative meaning : "amateurish".

My suggestion : "Despite all his practice, he is still amateurish."

[[ I wanted to mention that this was originally my comment to an answer by @headblender , but since I got a response from OP , I decided to add it as answer ]]

[[ Also wanted to mention that @laurence-payne had also commented about the trickiness of using "amateur" ]]

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    'Amateurish' is a solid description, thanks for writing as an answer @Prem. The fine distinction you made between 'amateur' and 'amateurish' is much appreciated. Commented Oct 12, 2017 at 2:56

Although the dictionary definitions don't really express your meaning directly, I would still be inclined to call him a piker:

2 :one who does things in a small way
from m-w.com

This is a negative word, with the implication in your case that they never took risks (even while practicing), or really engaged in serious self-analysis, to really improve; they just went along doing more or less what they had always done to get by.

An example usage:

The other morning I told my husband that when it came to snoring, compared to him I was a piker.
from WorldWideWords

  • Thanks for introducing me to a new word @Hellion! It's a fact that some musicians never really stretched themselves and therefore fell short, but there have been many others in various fields who actually lacked the talent to match their commitment. Commented Oct 10, 2017 at 21:27
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    That's interesting. As an Australian, I've always known "piker" to mean 1. someone who opts out of an arrangement or challenge or does not do their fair share. 2. someone who gambles, speculates, etc., in a small, cautious way: *I wasn't a piker either. I knew my horses. I had my daydreams. Today might be the day I'd back the programme. –SUTTON WOODFIELD, 1960. 3. someone who, from diffidence or lack of courage, does anything in a contemptibly small or cheap way. From the "Macquarie Dictionary Online"
    – Livrecache
    Commented Oct 10, 2017 at 22:38
  • Your definitions 2 and 3 exactly fit Hellion's meaning @Livrecache. Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 2:06
  • Ah, yes @EnglishStudent, but most Australians would only be familiar with the first definition. We (and the New Zealanders) seem to have come up with our own meaning of 'piker'.
    – Livrecache
    Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 5:48

After pursuing something over my lifetime, to be unrewarded by even modest levels of accomplishment is to suffer an unrequited devotion.

Look at Uncle, practised music all his life and still not very good at it: he is unrequited.

(of a feeling, especially love) not returned or rewarded.

  • Your unusual use of 'unrequited' is appropriate here, thanks @Stan -- would 'unrewarded' or 'didn't get his reward' work as well? Commented Oct 13, 2017 at 1:35
  • @EnglishStudent I considered the pursuit to be a labour of love. How else to describe such tenacity? No physical reward can be worth a lifetime of focussed, unpretentious effort. No degree of excellence in the opinion of an observer need justify the worth of a lifetime devoted to the pursuit of pleasure.
    – Stan
    Commented Oct 13, 2017 at 5:06
  • Very true; @Stan -- moreover, many such a person (including humble myself in certain amateur pursuits related to history, literature, and the sound of music from the 'listener's end') has actually felt quite satisfied with their achievements, which is all that really matters, even when external objective assessments might possibly say 'not really good enough!' Commented Oct 13, 2017 at 5:52

He is a man with a bright future behind him

  • 'Bright future behind him' __ too true, thanks @Neil_UK. Commented Oct 13, 2017 at 20:40

I'm not sure if the goal is to shame him in his failure or to politely describe his lack of positive results for his efforts.

This might do; Look at Uncle Kyle, he's practiced music all his life and remains a beginner.

  • It's not a specific case. I am looking for a term to describe the sad generic irony/paradox of someone practising something with full dedication all their life and not being much good at it anyway. "...and remains a beginner" is very apt, thanks @user2863749. Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 9:16
  • Then an "Eternal beginner" might do. Or a "Perennial beginner".
    – Elliot
    Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 17:08

If one desires to be more on the positive of things, it might be a good idea to employ the following expression:

Look at Uncle, practised music all his life and is still not very good at it, yet he is a such a tenacious trier.

Tenacious gives the meaning of strong-willed, resolute and persistent.

A for the word trier, it gives us the following sense of positivity:

If you say that someone is a trier, you approve of them because they try very hard at things that they do, although they are not often successful.

He may not always achieve greatness but at least he's a trier.

  • Thanks for a much better way of putting it, @Ken Graham! 3 other related expressions I was thinking of were 'nobody can fault his committment', 'he always gives 100%' and 'he never gives up' where 'he may not be the most skilled person' is left unstated, but rather implied in context. Commented Oct 12, 2017 at 12:42

Simpleton or Underachiever or castaway or lost one or clueless or try-hard or feeble-minded.

Personally I would go with clueless cause it makes more sense when addressing a particular case

  • Thanks @user261343 -- I have actually considered 'underachiever' an accurate description for many such persons. 'Clueless' should also work if they are really weak at their craft, I think. Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 2:55
  • 2
    I have never heard "clueless" being used in this context. Underacheiver is good, but I disagree with the other two.
    – as4s4hetic
    Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 4:37
  • It doesn't seem to me that "underachiever" fits. According to M-W online, the definition of underachiever is "one (such as a student) that fails to attain a predicted level of achievement or does not do as well as expected"
    – Livrecache
    Commented Oct 12, 2017 at 5:17

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