Amorous amateurs

I'm in the process of reading Cognitive Surplus by Clay Shirky and will have lots more to share that I'm finding in this wonderful book. For starters, Shirky tells us that the word "amateur" is derived from the Latin word for love: amor. Amateurs used to mean people who loved what they were doing and felt passionate about their pursuits. In modern parlance, they were intrinsically rewarded for their accomplishments. They did not need to be rewarded because doing the work, making a difference, contributing their talents and expressing themselves was reward enough. They were self motivated.

The word has suffered from "semantic shift". The meaning of "amateur" has changed over time. Nowadays, professionals think of amateurs as unprofessional, lacking credentials and disqualified from legitimate practice. It's regarded as a way to enter into a professional elite, but otherwise an obvious failure to advance oneself. Amateurs are presumed to dilly-dally and operate indulgently with low standards. There's no way they could be superior to professionals according to those who are educated, licensed, certified or otherwise qualified to practice.

We're beginning to see how amateurs can provide superior value, impact and functionality to others. The original sense of the word is returning -- of loving what they do and feeling passionate about their pursuits. They are free of the side effects of extrinsic rewards. They can bring solutions to problems and provide very personal attention. They can do more on a pro bono or volunteer basis using freemium models of versioned services. They are inclined to support each other transparently rather than compete, wall themselves off in seclusion and present an opaque bunch of hype about their processes.

The word amorous has also suffered from semantic drift. It no longer refers to the kind of love we feel for our activities and contributions. My dictionary gives its meaning as: "showing, feeling, or relating to sexual desire", "lustful, sexual, erotic, amatory, ardent, passionate, impassioned; in love, enamored, lovesick". When the meaning of "amateur" semantically drifts back to a superior kind of motivation, I suspect "amorous" will join the migration and refer to less erotic pursuits. We will speak of "amorous amateurs" with appreciation, awe and respect.


  1. I often attempt to subvert the amateur/professional dichotomy by declaring professionalism to be a state of mind not of money. A drama teacher long ago gave me that one as she challenged we amateur actors & crew to engage with our best selves.

    I'm out here doing my best to create some semantic turbulence which will encourage "amateur" to drift away from its current :) almost landlocked limitations. It's original meaning is useful & with contemporary accretions it can grow into a powerful concept.

    G'day Tom :)

  2. I'm delighted this resonated with what you're already thinking and how your already messing with the meaning of "amateur" to empower some others. Good luck getting those mislabeled "non-professionals" to transform their self-concepts free of that amateur/professional dichotomy.

    Cheers minh :-)

  3. "I used to be a professional. Now I am a teacher."


  4. Thanks for the link minh! I especially liked what Michael implied about amateurs when he wrote: "We have a choice. We can act like professionals, or we can continue to take the easier paths. The two are not compatible."