I want to describe myself as someone who likes to torture himself by learning something really difficult and not very useful.

I know there's such a word for describing someone who likes to be tortured sexually. But it's not what I'm looking for.

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    Sisyphean didactic autoflagellation has a nice ring to it. – Cameron Apr 17 '12 at 9:27
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    "graduate student" – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Apr 17 '12 at 18:00
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    @dmckee: The more I think about your suggestion, the funnier it is. Graduate student (n.): someone who likes to torture himself by learning something really difficult and not very useful. Brilliant! – J.R. Apr 17 '12 at 19:17
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    @J.R. It's the voice of bitter experience. I had a great deal of fun in grad school, but... – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Apr 17 '12 at 19:25
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    @Cameron: By standard nounification, Sisyphean seems like a reasonable choice to me. Certainly much better than masochist, imho. You should post it as an answer - I'd upvote it! – FumbleFingers Apr 18 '12 at 12:23

Actually, you are looking for the word masochist. In its general sense it means someone who enjoys a painful or tedious activity.

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  • "The tendency to derive pleasure, esp. sexual gratification, from one's own pain or humiliation" so this is still very sexually hinted word. anything not related to sex ? – McBear Holden Apr 17 '12 at 9:02
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    Actually, someone who likes to torture himself is an auto-masochist. A masochist is just someone who likes to be tortured, usually by other people. – user16269 Apr 17 '12 at 9:16
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    Innocent words have acquired negative /unintended connotations by misuse. See what happened to gay. Sadism and masochism are thus maligned, as well. We need to coin neologisms, for clean use until they fall into the hands of word-vandals. But for now, masochism may be the closest fit for you. – Kris Apr 17 '12 at 9:21
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    @Kris: I don't think this is a good example of words getting sexual overtones by misuse; it's the other way around in this case. The word originally referred to pleasure-from-pain in a sexual context, and then evolved into a more vanilla use. – J.R. Apr 17 '12 at 10:40
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    @osager: yes, the word does have some sexual overtones – no getting around that – just look it up in any dictionary. However, that doesn't mean the word can't be used in a non-sexual context. If you're uncomfortable with that, find another way to express what you're trying to say, but, as I said in my earlier comment, good luck finding a synonym. – J.R. Apr 17 '12 at 10:45

Masochist is definitely a sexually-loaded term - after all, as OED says, it comes from Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, the Austrian novelist who famously described that form of sexual perversion (cf sadist - Marquis de Sade).

Of course, this doesn't prevent it being used figuratively by a speaker who intends no sexual connotation, but there's no guarantee his audience won't register that connotation. Besides which, you can't really use it with no connotations of perversion, which is normally sexual anyway.

I don't know a suitable "sexual perversion-free" one-word term but OP might like to consider...

glutton for punishment - someone who habitually takes on burdensome or unpleasant tasks or unreasonable amounts of work.

EDIT (following discussion in comments) - it's worth pointing out that even metaphorically, there's a strong implication that the masochist only does what he does for (perverted) pleasure. But in common parlance, a glutton for punishment is someone who (often, cheerfully) gets on with arduous tasks that actually need to be done (with overtones of stoic dedication, not perversion).

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    I can't believe that in the English language there's no such a term which is not sexually related. I'm Chinese and in the Chinese language we have a not-at-all rare word for such self-torturing person. Is this a cultural thing ? lol – McBear Holden Apr 17 '12 at 20:50
  • @osager: I'd bet any money English has far more words in total than any particular Chinese language (quite possibly, more than all Chinese languages combined), so you're on a hiding to nothing trying to come the old acid with that one, sunshine! :) – FumbleFingers Apr 17 '12 at 21:14
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    @osager: Heh, I guessed that. Seriously, I think there might be a certain element of "cultural thing" involved here. Western civilisation does major more on the primacy of the individual, so we probably have more words around the "self-serving" senses than the "self-sacrificing" ones. But if you're looking to tell a prospective employer that you like hard work, you'd probably be more likely to get the job if you said you were a glutton for punishment than if you said you were a masochist. On the other hand, dedicated/hard worker would be fine anyway. – FumbleFingers Apr 17 '12 at 21:45
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    @osager: Figuratively or otherwise, a masochist usually tortures himself simply because he enjoys being tortured. A glutton for punishment is almost never used with "perverted pleasure" as a primary (or even incidental) meaning - it just means someone who (often, cheerfully) takes on a gruelling task that needs to be done by somebody (unlike the masochist, if it didn't need to be done, they wouldn't do it). – FumbleFingers Apr 17 '12 at 22:24
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    @FF: nice on glutton for punishment. Works great for the O.P.'s purposes. – J.R. Apr 17 '12 at 23:03

The answer is 吃苦, transliterated chi ku.

In English, this Chinese expression is known as eating bitter. I have found no better explication on the Web than this post on a martial arts forum:

Chinese phrase for enduring hardship. Or as Occidentals would say: "Grin and Bear It." Other references are: “Keep on Truckin”, “Hang In There”, “Stick It Out”, “Suck It Up”, etc., all to mean to endure something unpleasant in good humor. Or to continue despite difficulties in a general phrase of encouragement meaning to stay focused.


Eating bitter seems to be an aged-old saying, like a parent to a child, upon having the child do something without complaint. It has the meaning of working hard and tolerate some agony in order to acquire what it is one is hoping to achieve.

Given the rapidity with which Chinese culture is spreading in the West, we will see eating bitter become more and more common. A biography published in 2010 (not a translation but a book originally in English) has Eating Bitter as its title, and there are many more examples.

I know, some of you will say it's too early to declare eating bitter part of the English language. Well, maybe you still have to put it between inverted commas and explain it upon first mention. I do believe, however, we will see it entering into common circulation soon. This is because (1) none of the English-language phrases*, from "grin and bear it" to "suck it up", carry quite the same connotations and (2) its very Chinese-ness makes it attractive, just as "tiger mom" filled a lacuna that had existed before.

So, you can say "I am used to eating bitter" or "I am one who likes to eat bitter, as we say at home" to describe yourself. In a job interview, this may get you a quizzical look, which is an opportunity for you to tell more. Interest in things Chinese is high in the West, so ride the wave!

*A more technical English phrase is "rage to master", used to denote willingness to put in thousands of hours of hard work in order to become highly proficient at something. However, it appears to be restricted to discussion of giftedness and therefore I do not see it as a good synonym for eating bitter.

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  • "I like to get my hands dirty": also not a good fit. "Masochist" is too sexual. "Glutton for punishment" is not bad, but usually works as self-deprecating humor or when you're poking fun at someone. – Eugene Seidel Apr 18 '12 at 3:53
  • I'm sorry but the Chinese version is not 吃苦, but 自虐(zi nue). There're quite a lot of nuances here. English as a language has always been a melting pot with traces from almost every other language in the world. That's its charm I think. Now adays a few more Chinese elements would make it more fun to use :) – McBear Holden Apr 18 '12 at 10:11
  • @osager As you are Chinese, I am inclined to defer to you. However, a web query turned up a fairly large number of hits, not all duplicates of each other... so now I am unsure what to think. – Eugene Seidel Apr 18 '12 at 10:53
  • Oh wait, I see now where I misunderstood you... All this time I thought you were talking about "eating bitter" (chi ku) but you were thinking of zi nue, which is much more about inflicting pain on yourself, almost for the sheer sake of it... and so now I understand why you accepted the masochism answer. Hmm... sorry if I wasted your time. (By the way, in case that masochism strikes you as too strong and/or too sexual, putting on a hair shirt may also be worth your consideration.) – Eugene Seidel Apr 18 '12 at 12:18
  • Don't worry about it. It's always fun to discuss. – McBear Holden Apr 18 '12 at 13:01

Describing yourself as a wonk might be a good approach. Per websters-dictionary-online it refers to "An insignificant student who is ridiculed as being affected or boringly studious"; more commonly it has a sense like "someone who is extremely interested in unimportant political facts". You might also describe yourself as dogged ("Stubbornly persevering, steadfast"), stubborn, or relentless ("Unrelenting or unyielding in severity" and "Unremitting, steady and persistent") in pursuit of knowledge.

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Just use self-torture. According to Oxford Dictionaries:

self-torture (n): The inflicting of pain, especially mental pain, on oneself.

You can find a list of definitions at OneLook.com.

If you are doing this for an interview or job, to save yourself from trying to figure out ONE WORD, just use a bunch of goodish words like --> "I am a dedicated hard worker blah blah blah who strives to perfect the craft I need to acquire in the work area by imposing strenuous mental activities repetitively on my intellect."

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  • The question asks for a "Word for a person", so self-torture doesn't fit - it describes the act rather than the actor. -1 for the poor fit, but +1 for including relevant research and sources, which is certainly what we aspire to see in all our answers :-) – Chappo Hasn't Forgotten Monica Aug 12 '16 at 0:59

I'm curious to know why the specificity of "really difficult and not very useful". Why bother?

That made me think of another overtly sexual word, also beginning with "mas", but that would be self-gratifyingly rude.

As a manager of staff, since the implication is a job application, my instinctual answer would be "wastrel", since if I'm going to be paying you, I'd rather you expend the energy on something that IS "very useful"...

But that's me.

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Pedantic, a pedant. This term refers to a person who is perhaps boorishly tedious and officious but relates to learning lots of arcane facts.

Kinda thinking Luddite is a word worth musing over--it's not quite right for what you're looking for but it plays on the angle of the thing being learned is no longer useful.

An antiquarian is also interesting but not quite right.

I'll keep thinking about this one.

EDIT: I really appreciate whoever downvoted my comment without engaging me with a reply to offer a reason why they disliked my suggestions. I'm trying to be helpful here and don't appreciate downvoting trolls.

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    Your suggestions don't come remotely close to satisfying the request. While I agree that downvoting without leaving some type of comment is a little bit antisocial, I don't think your defensive edit is likely to engender much sympathy. I don't think downvoting your answer can be reasonably described as trolling. – Dave Magner Feb 19 '15 at 22:03
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    Your synonyms are way off the mark. You should go back and read the question. – Vedaad Shakib May 18 '15 at 6:25

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