• Someone who takes a very superficial or passing interest in a subject; someone who participates in something for fun or in spare time, rather than professionally

  • A person who pretends to be an expert in an area despite having only basic knowledge or abilities


  • Participating only at an introductory level; possessing only basic knowledge or having little expertise


Everyone knows a dilettante - it's just one of those facts of life. For some people, the draw of knowing about or being able to do something lies less in the reward of having the skill itself than in the reputation that comes with it. It's not enough to just know how to play the bagpipes, for example; they want all the prestige and respect that comes with the pipin' lifestyle. And that's totally copacetic, of course - we all have different motivations, and it's not evil to want others to think you're cool. But some folks are just plain posers. Unfortunately, these dilettantes want the lifestyle of a certain skill or hobby but don't want to put in the work to truly earn it.

Before we unfairly excoriate amateurs everywhere, though, we should clarify exactly what we mean by dilettante in the above passage. In general, a dilettante is a person who has only a passing or very surface-level interest in some field or activity. Here, "some field or activity" usually refers to an art form like photography or bagpiping, but someone can be a dilettante in anything they have opportunity to practice, from skate-boarding to marine biology. Skill-wise, dilettantes are amateurs in their chosen areas. They enjoy the basics of something or have a brief, introductory knowledge of a subject, but they don't have the time, motivation, or talent to master it. Unprepared to put in the serious concentration and hard work often necessary to excel in a field, a dilettante stands in sharp contrast to an experienced professional, or even to just a devoted fanatic.

So far this sounds like a fairly neutral word, right? Sometimes, but dilettante is often twisted into a derogatory term. In this case, the use of dilettante implies that its referent is a posturer, someone who, despite having only a little experience in a subject and perhaps being too lazy to study it further, pretends to have mastery-level knowledge or ability. These dilettantes are thought to care only about looking cool. Such posers rarely actually appreciate the arts they dabble in, considering them more as means to obtain a certain social status. Acting as a dilettante in this way is frequently seen as an insult to the integrity of the field in question and to those who have legitimately mastered it.

Although you're most likely to see dilettante used as a noun, the word can also function as an adjective. Applied mostly to words that describe a habitual condition (like "attitude" or "hobby"), the adjective dilettante characterizes something as carried out only at a basic level and without a sense of effort or dedication. A dilettante approach to cooking, for example, might involve trying a new, easy-looking recipe every Friday night, but would stop far short of anything like going to culinary school or researching the chemical reactions necessary for the perfect roast turkey.

Example: Although Fran found circuitry fascinating, her limited funds and a fear of shocking herself kept her from becoming any more than a dilettante.

Example: Tim is always yapping about the finer aspects of playing the violin, but to actually hear him play reveals him as nothing but a dilettante.

Example: A happy dilettante, I'm more than satisfied with bumbling around on the easy levels of a videogame.

Example: While my brother is no Picasso, his dilettante painting at least keeps him amused.


Even if dilettantes aren't masters, they still very much enjoy the topics they pursue. It makes sense, then, that one of the word's earliest ancestors is the Italian verb delectare, meaning "to please the senses, amuse, or delight" (which would also eventually give rise to the English delectable). Delectare would inspire the Italian verb for "to delight," dilettare, as well as the subsequent Italian noun dilettante, which means "a devotee of the arts." English had directly requisitioned dilettante by the 1730s, although its derogatory association would not appear until later in the century.

Derivative Words

Dilettantish: This adjective characterizes something (usually a hobby, skill, or other activity) as being done out of a superficial, non-serious interest.

Example: His dilettantish poetry left his readers with no doubts that he was far from an expert.

Dilettantism: This noun describes the practice or condition of pursuing a topic or field with only a cursory level of interest.

Example: The young writer's dilettantism was evident from his archaic, oddly formal prose.

In Literature

From Tom Hodgkinson's The Freedom Manifesto: How to Free Yourself from Anxiety, Fear, Mortgages, Money, Guilt, Debt, Government, Boredom, Supermarkets, Bills, Melancholy, Pain, Depression, Work, and Waste:

In a world where you are constantly asked to be 'committed,' it is liberating to give yourself the license to be a dilettante. Commit to nothing. Try everything.

Hodgkinson uses dilettante to state that there's nothing wrong with simply dabbling in the things we're interested in for fun, instead of forcing ourselves to pick something to devote our lives to. In fact, being dilettantes can be freeing, because it allows us to live according to the caprices of our interests.


  • Dilettantes - they're no savants

  • Staying an amateur is the dilettante's dilemma

  • Dilettante knows only a little


Art, Skills, Talents

Bring out the linguist in you! What is your own interpretation of dilettante. Did you use dilettante in a game? Provide an example sentence or a literary quote.