Dilettantes Turn On Delight Switches

A word I’ve applied to myself and my aspirations–sometimes out loud, more often in my head–is “dilettante.” Yes, self-deprecating, but not entirely–I do in fact love to do what I took the word to mean: dabble. A dive into this topic, then that one, some time learning this language, then that one, some time in this place, then that one, each instance resulting in a temporary sense of depth, and then later just broad familiarity and echoes of that depth–at some point, I could tell you so much about x!

And it has such a dancey, prancey ring, “dilettante”–the delicate lighhearted flibbertigibbet, flitting in stilettos, barely alighting on an inanity before flitting off once more; and that –ante… my 35 years in this culture interpret that feminine ending in a way I wish they wouldn’t: “not very serious, no, less than, less than!” So it’s a word I’d use for myself in a reclaimy sort of way, use to say “my way of being, while perhaps not one you were raised to think awesome, is worthy (so suck it)” but would not presume to apply to others, because it’s sort of calling them ridiculous.

BUT holy cannoli: do you know what? It is not a word rooted in flight, in shallowness, in flitting: it is rooted in delight.

This is more page than you need, but I LOVE how it’s sandwiched between “dilemma” and “diligence.” HA!

It started off in Italian just meaning one who is delighted by the arts, which passed through a phase of “devoted amateur” (please note the “love” intrinsic to “amateur”) until it got to the late 18th century, when it came to be a pejorative alternative to “professional.” Because GOD FORBID (ba dum chhh) people (especially female people, especially us     -antes) feel delighted when there’s a Protestant work ethic* of Productivity=Worth to assume as the only acceptable response to being alive. I just … something about “delighting in art” becoming the maligned counterpart of “being a professional” makes me sad for all of us.

But as always, the good news is that English Belongs to Everyone, so we have some options for resolving this dilemma other than just diligently avoiding the word. We could explicitly, delightedly reclaim it; we could decide to replace ‘dilettante’ with something made-up and thus untouched by dominant culture, like “delectante” (which is both invented by me right this minute and apparently already extant as an ablative singular noun in Latin). Or, we can repurpose another word from the same rich page:

…and say yeah! it’s ok and even expanding to care about art, to be a devoted amateur. And we’ll add a strong feminine “e” to the end, and pronounce the whole thing however we like, with increased space between our particles.


*Let me note that I am not arguing that work is dumb and so are people who like it. I have some laden concepts of work myself, including having heard once “If you don’t work, you steal” and thinking that is so fucking true (being 23 and understanding this as an indictment of those who didn’t need wages in order to feed themselves, not realizing that having the economic freedom and privilege to join the Peace Corps made me just as indictable by this formulation), and, these days, beginning to think about work, leisure, and play, about who is assumed a right to which in our country…etc. I think I can say unequivocally only that I don’t believe the worth of a person to be dependent on “how hard they work,” because I (mostly) don’t believe the worth of a person to be dependent (except, you know, if I’m the person, but I’m unlearning that.) I reference Pittman McGehee’s concept of “The American Religion” a lot in this vein, and I say again, The Invisible Church is a lovely place to discover some healing counterarguments to all this.

3 thoughts on “Dilettantes Turn On Delight Switches

  1. Go girl!!! I’ll be passing this along to The Great One. (TGO is what his best friend, “Leroy” the trickster calls him. I just learned that!!!)

    Rachel *________________________________________________________* *Rachel Conerly* *+1 (919) 932.9916 direct * *+1 (919) 349.2289 mobile* *www.thecos.org * *Never doubt that a small group of people can change the world…*


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