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According to OD, an enthusiast is a person who is very interested in something and spends a lot of time doing it.

I wonder if I have to really do it to call myself an enthusiast. For example, if I don't play football but watch it a lot, am I a football enthusiast? The same question applies to art, music, and the like.

Also, is there any kind of field/subject/activity that is weird to use the word "enthusiast" with? To me, it seems like I can just combine any noun with enthusiast to have a natural phrase. Having said that, I'm afraid that I might be wrong in some situation.

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    Note how your dictionary says "spends a lot of time doing it" but then in the next sentence you're immediately tempted to use a more specific verb, "play", instead of "do". I think it comes to the distinction between "play football" and the more general "engage in football-related activities" (such as watching a football match on TV, or organising a football tournament for your local football association). It's more obvious for music: does "spends a lot of time doing music" mean "listening to music" or "playing a musical instrument"?
    – Stef
    Commented May 28 at 6:15
  • An incredibly rare case of an example in the OED being a little bit off.
    – Fattie
    Commented May 28 at 12:37
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    There is a second definition on that link: "a person who approves of something and shows enthusiasm for it" note that that definition clearly does NOT involve participation.
    – MikeB
    Commented May 28 at 16:03
  • In an Ngram, football likes enthusiast. And for music, aficionado ("a noun out of the past participle of the Spanish verb aficionar, which means "to inspire affection") is on the rise and enthusiast is on the decline but still winning. ... enthusiast : "mid 16th century (referring to a person believing that he or she is divinely inspired)" IMO, if you're not a musician or an artist, and you call yourself an enthusiast, then you're a poser who's actually just an aficionado.
    – Mazura
    Commented May 29 at 5:55

4 Answers 4

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Sometimes there is a more common phrase that you should use instead. It isn't that "football enthusiast" is a grammar error or a mistake, but "football fan" is the more common expression for someone who enjoys watching the game.

And while you can be enthusiastic about almost anything, there are some activities, such as paid work, about which enthusiasm would sound odd. I want my doctor to be knowledgeable, professional, caring (etc). But I don't want a "virus enthusiast".

A connotation of "enthusiast" is someone who is keen, and interested, but amateur. It can be "faint praise"; someone is enthusiastic, but not actually good at the activity.

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  • Thank you! What about art? If I really love art, but I don't draw, am I an art enthusiast, an art fan, or both? Commented May 27 at 6:12
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    It's fine, try searching for examples of both terms and see which works for you. You might also try "art lover".
    – James K
    Commented May 27 at 6:13
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    @anIELTSlearner I don't think that "football enthusiast" or "art enthusiast" are wrong per se. They would definitely be understood in the right context as someone who was enthusiastic about watching football or appreciating art, not necessary playing or creating. But the ambiguity (What, regarding art, are you enthusiastic about?) means there's potentially better ways of phrasing things.
    – R.M.
    Commented May 27 at 16:08
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    It's just the colocation, "art" goes with "lover". "football" with "fan". You might look at the connotations of words like "fan", "enthusiast", "lover" to understand how particular colocations developed. "Fan" from "fanatic" connotes "mad devotion". "lover" suggests a more peaceful sense.
    – James K
    Commented May 28 at 7:12
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    I'm reminded of Geoffrey the butler from Fresh Prince. It's almost like a comedy line for a "proper" or "British" character, "Yes, young master, I'm quite the enthusiast of this 'N F L' entertainment one sees on the tele-vision on Sundays ..."
    – Fattie
    Commented May 28 at 12:42
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You'll note that this is not the only definition given - it also gives

a person who approves of something and shows enthusiasm for it

Enthusiasm is about "approving of" or perhaps "get excited about" something. Enthusiasm has a broader meaning than just "doing" the activity - it encompasses enthusiasm for any number of actions related to the activity which are not necessarily the activity itself. Not even just actions, but anything related to the activity, e.g. football memorabilia.

This is also why you can use the term "enthusiastic of/for/about" things which are not activities. The dictionary link you provided gives the example:

Enthusiast for a united Europe

Clearly, "a united Europe" is a thing, not an activity you can take part. But you can still show enthusiasm about it because you can get excited about it and about things related to it.

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I will answer the first and separate part of your question,

"Am I a football enthusiast if I don't play football?"

Yes, it is 1000% correct that an enthusiast can be either (a) a viewer or (b) a player.

As everyone has pointed out, "a football enthusiast" sounds perhaps a bit archaic, formal, or just whacky. But it's absolutely true that an enthusiast can be either (a) a viewer or (b) a player.

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The OED definition is a little confusing; I think that as @Stef commented you should understand 'doing it' to mean 'doing activities that are related to it'. I would actually consider the word 'enthusiast' to more obviously refer to someone who is a fan or follower of a topic than a participant.

When you say that someone is an enthusiast it's often something quite specific. For example someone might be a WWII-era ship enthusiast, or a jazz enthusiast. It would sound a touch odd to say that you're an art enthusiast, just because if you're really into art you probably have a more specific interest than just art in general.

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    It's not the OED (Oxford English Dictionary) paywall version. The OP's definition comes from Oxford Learners Dictionary. Click on the link in the Q, and you'll see.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented May 28 at 14:04
  • Are the definitions of the this word in the OED better than the OFD and able to help me really understand the meaning instead of confusing me? Should I pay for the OED registration fee? Commented May 28 at 16:00
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    @anIELTSlearner to the first part, yes: the full OED has for this sense "Originally: a person who intensely favours a particular cause, principle, etc., or who pursues an activity or objective with passion or zeal. Now more mildly: a person who feels or displays keen interest in, passion for, or enjoyment of a particular activity or subject". I can't help you with 'should I pay' since I get free access via my (UK) local library
    – AakashM
    Commented May 30 at 12:33

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