If ever there were a word whose reputation was deserving of rehabilitation it would have to be dilettante. The connotations with it are usually negative. A dilettante is a dabbler, one who lacks commitment, perhaps a step above a ne’er-do-well. A quick glance at the OED shows that was not always the case.
1. A lover of the fine arts; originally one who cultivates them for the love of them rather than professionally, and so = amateur as opposed to professional; but in later use generally applied more or less depreciatively to one who interests himself in an art or science merely as a pastime and without serious aim or study (‘a mere dilettante’).
I find it interesting that the OED uses the term amateur there, for that is another word that is often used near disdainfully, but its roots are in the Latin word for love. An amateur is someone who does something out of passion rather than for recompense. And think about it, if you apply that to the act of love, who wouldn’t want to be an amateur? The OED identifies dilettante as coming from the Latin word delectare (to delight). Again, what a wonderful quality!
When George Plimpton died, Rachel Blount wrote in the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune, “What athletes created through muscle and reflex, Plimpton translated with wit and keen observation. In that gift, he remains unsurpassed. Plimpton himself said, “There are people who would perhaps call me a dilettante, because it looks as though I’m having too much fun. I have never been convinced there’s anything inherently wrong in having fun.”
Through his writing, editing, publishing, and participation in the pleasures of life Plimpton made this world a richer, more interesting place. If you doubt this, simply watch When We Were Kings, the documentary about Muhammad Ali and George Foreman’s “Rumble in the Jungle.” Plimpton’s pleasure and energy become ours, and in his role of interpreter he gives meaning and order to the film.
It’s enough to make me hope someone someday might call me a dilettante.