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What do you call a person, that, given a particular social context, behaves or is led to behave differently from all others, perhaps ending up being regarded as a strange person and/or punished or ending up as an outcast for his/her actions?

The terms "deviant", "freak", and "weirdo" exist, but I am looking for a word with a neutral rather than negative connotation. The word "deviant" also seems like it could imply a sexual context, which is not what I'm after.

What I don't like about these words is that a person coming across these is likely to dismiss the speaker or argument, killing the argument without giving out any further attention or consideration, which is not the effect I'm after.

I would like a word that summons interest in the person's unusual behavior, without putting the reader or luster off and create an atmosphere of interest I such person's behavior.

  • "....marches to the beat of her own drum." – Adam Sep 15 '17 at 16:46
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    "Has becoming rich changed you?" the reporter asked. "Well, in some ways," he replied. "I'm now 'eccentric' when I used to be 'weird', and 'delightfully witty' when I used to be 'rude'." – Jay Sep 15 '17 at 17:25
  • My daughter once commented that there as a group in her school who "want to be non-conformists -- just like all their friends". – Jay Sep 15 '17 at 17:26
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If you're looking for words synonymous with different but without negative connotations you might try these:

eccentric, individualist, unconventional, off-center, free spirit, nonconformist, recusant, bohemian, freethinker

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    I agree with eccentric, individualist, unconventional, and non-conformist. "Freethinker" is often used as a synonym for "atheist". (By atheists, anyway.) "Free spirit" has connotations of being a hippie. "Bohemian" has connotations of beatnik. "Recusant" I'm not familiar with. – Jay Sep 15 '17 at 17:24
  • Eccentric is a good one. It's our nicest world for weird. – EllieK Sep 15 '17 at 19:10
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You can use the adjective unconventional. For example,

Jasper was an unconventional boy who always did things differently from others. As a result, his talents were never recognised.

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Ditto @kartooniks on eccentric, individualist, unconventional, and non-conformist.

Other possibilities are maverick, offbeat, and unorthodox.

If the person is actively working against conventions, you might call him a rebel, a heretic, or an iconoclast.

  • I came here to suggest "maverick". – arp Jun 9 '18 at 19:37
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While not a single word, a neutral description of such a person would be:

She does her own thing.

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