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Tuesday, March 5, 2024
The Observer

This is an amateur pun

Just a second, please… I’m laughing at my own nerdy joke… (thank you for laughing or pretending you did.)

OK, I’m ready. I have a question for you. When someone says the word “amateur,” what comes to mind?

Thinking of something? Alright, cool.

I’m now going to attempt to read your mind.

When you heard the word amateur, did you think of things like a beginner, non-profession, novice, unskilled or something similar?

If I’m right, that’s awesome, thanks for helping me be telepathic for a minute!

If I’m wrong, then either you know exactly where I’m going with this, or I’d really love to have a conversation with you and find out what you were thinking instead. Either way, I hope you keep reading because I wrote this for you.

What I learned is that “amateur” used to mean a person who does something for the simple fact that they love doing it, regardless of skill. I think that’s beautiful.

Now, I don’t remember where I learned this wonderful thing (probably on some odd grammar-joke-filled pocket of the internet), but I have been wanting to put some research behind it, hence this column. I would likely be a linguistics major if there was such a thing at Saint Mary’s. Instead, I found the closest thing — a mash-up between English literature and communication studies.

So, here’s a little etymology tidbit for you: We borrowed the word “amateur” from the early 15th-century French word “amateur,” meaning someone who loves (we didn’t really give it back).

A few decades later it began to mean someone who loves an abstract concept. In the 17th century, an amateur referred to someone who was a “non-practicing enthusiast of the fine arts,” and in the 18th century, a “non-professional practitioner of an art or a science.”

Of course, the French-derived it from the Latin “amator,” which means lover, devoted friend and enthusiastic admirer. Thanks, online Oxford English Dictionary!

I adore this original meaning because of what the word amateur means today; it is a much-needed reminder.

In our historical moment, especially these recent classes in the 2010s (and now the 2020s, too…when did that happen?!), it seems we’ve collectively been raised to carefully curate our academics, extracurriculars, hobbies, even the shows and movies we watch and the books we read in order to present a picture-perfect concept, *cough* sorry, person to the world.

That was just getting into college, though.

Once we’re actually in college, the narrative becomes layered. We are told that college is the time for trying new things and exploring different interests while simultaneously being reminded from day one to have a four-year, five-year plan to launch yourself into the real world. We are offered a bounty of fun, and career-minded clubs and courses to try, but what those inspiring, abstract images and videos promoting these institutions don’t detail is that it’s actually a race to find the thing you’re good at so that you can put yourself on the next track to a career.

That is the cynical view, to be sure, though it doesn’t feel untrue.

But this is why I wanted to talk about the word “amateur.” Despite that not-untrue cynicism, I believe in the importance of being an amateur at something. Or at many things! In the modern colloquial sense, yet, but more importantly in the language of love, that French meaning.

To have something that is not consequential in any way except to bring joy, something you do simply because you love it. And by no means does this prevent you from becoming better at it.

Being an amateur at something reminds us of how much we don’t know, and how much it’s OK to not know everything. It’s humbling, but it’s wonderful. It’s freeing.

I recognize that this is entirely my singular perspective, too. I’ve only come to it after a long period of stressing out over my involvement and interest in things that change from semester to semester more often than not. But, c’est la vie, oui?

Call it a hobby, call it a guilty pleasure, call it whatever you can think of — if there is something that you just enjoy doing just for the love of it, then do it.

Be an amateur.

Be a non-professional practitioner or non-practicing enthusiast at something, or at nothing, it’s your call.

But do be someone who loves.

Better yet, become someone who loves.

And now that I’ve been sufficiently, ironically, serious about not being too serious about something you love, I’d like to end this column with a few suggestions for things to be an amateur at, courtesy of my friends.

These are things that some people consider themselves amateurs at, but do it for the love of it anyway:

  • Singing (this was a popular one, I think many can relate)
  • Creative writing
  • Watercolor or drawing
  • Multiplayer video games
  • Badminton (apparently it’s not spelled “badmitten”)
  • Makeup or nail art
  • Tap dancing
  • Thinking about the existence of the soul
  • Photography (that’s mine!)
Please share what you are an amateur at! Share it with yours truly over email (see my bio below), share it with friends and family or just give it a brief thought and move on with your day. Or anything in between. It’s up to you.

Madeline Law is a Saint Mary’s junior from Petoskey, Michigan. She studies English literature and communication studies with a minor in theater. If you can find her, she’ll either be adding books to scattered to-read lists or re-reading old favorites. Reach her at and send book suggestions.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.