Word of the Day: Amateur

Recently, I read a blog where the author claimed he wasn’t a “real” writer; that he was “just” an amateur.

Though I believe that anyone who writes is a writer, whether or not they get paid for it, that is not the point of this post. Rather, I will be discussing the word “amateur” and the misleading way many people use this word.

The primary definition of “amateur” simply means a person who engages in an activity for pleasure, for the love of it, rather than for financial compensation. An amateur does not make their living engaging in the activity mentioned.  Originally, there were no assumptions as to the quality of the activity performed; the sole point was that the person did not make their living from the activity or work.

Nowadays, the connotations of this word have mostly strayed from its original meaning. Most people use the word “amateur” today to imply shoddy, sloppy, substandard work. It is used to mean the opposite of the word “professional”, which now carries the assumption of quality work.

However, as with “amateur”, the original meaning of “professional” simply meant that one was paid for the relevant activity; this was how they made their living. And while a professional presumably did careful, meticulous work, the assumption that their work was necessarily superior to that of an amateur was not always implied.

Indeed, I’ve seen many amateurs who excel in their chosen activity. Olympic athletes, who are officially classified as amateur athletes, immediately come to mind. Similarly, I’ve seen too many “professionals” produce substandard workmanship. After all, how would the Better Business Bureau exist without so-called “professionals” doing shoddy work?

It is the dedication to excellence that makes the real difference, not whether or not the person is paid for their efforts.

Something to think about.




cheating_rect-460x307One of my language pet peeves is the use of the word “cheating” to refer to marital/relationship infidelity, and the expression “cheating on” someone, to refer to somoene being unfaithful to their romantic partner.

It reminds me of math tests and country songs, such as “Your Cheatin’ Heart”.  It also has a decidedly juvenile, high-schoolish tone to it, as well as sounding more than a little redneck-y.

Though, of course, your mileage may vary, I prefer to use the words infidelity, unfaithful, and the like, rather than the mawkish “cheating”.

Thinking in Extremes

One common tendency among many people is the unfortunate fallacy of thinking in extremes. That is, if you don’t agree with a particular point, then you must be for its polar opposite, with no room for shades of grey in between.

For instance, I remember as a young adult complaining that I had no intimate relationship with a man and talking with my sister about it. She would immediately get huffy and tell me that being alone was far preferable to living with an asshole.

Of course that is true, but I would always answer her by saying, “Are those my only two choices? Asshole or alone? Surely there are other choices in between those two extremes?”.

Another example I see often on Facebook is a type of comment that predictably appears in response to articles dealing with animal abuse. These commenters want to know why people care so much about animals when there are so many children being abused.

Their unspoken erroneous assumption is that people can care about only one issue at a time; that if you care about one issue, then you could not possibly care about the other. It apparently has never occurred to them that one can care about the abuse of animals AND children, both at the same time. For them, life is all about either/or and never both/and.

Still another example of this sort of thinking is one I see on message boards. Sometimes, a member will decide they’ve been spending too much time at the board and will decide to take a break from it. But instead of simply not visiting the board for an extended period of time, they take the drastic step of completely unsubscribing from the board and deleting their account.

Another common example of extreme, black and white thinking often happens in response when an individual woman attempts to do a non-traditional job, such as being a fire fighter, and fails.

Predictably, many people will point to her individual failure as proof positive that ALL women are unsuited to such work where, with a man, they’d just shrug and say it was his own personal failure and implied nothing at all about other men.

Thinking in extremes is dualistic, black and white thinking that does not allow for multiple possibilities or shades of grey.  It is usually a false dichotomy.

Recently, I’ve been reading quite a bit about raising the minimum wage on Facebook.

Some naysayers have opposed this idea, insisting that minimum wage workers should not make as much as college graduates and those in skilled trades; saying that such jobs should only be a stepping stone, not permanent jobs.

But it’s not that simple.  Complex problems never are and they deserve more than simple answers.

First of all, no one is suggesting that minimum wage workers should now be making a hundred thousand dollars a year.

All that is being asked for is a minimum wage that keeps pace with inflation and does not lose buying power.  I remember once reading that in 1973, a minimum wage worker  who worked a 40 hour week made enough to keep three people above the Federal poverty line.  Now, that same worker cannot keep one person above it.  During the 12 years of the Reagan and Bush I presidencies, the minimum wage was not raised once, though prices most assuredly did during that same time.  Hence, the minimum wage’s buying power has steadily dwindled over the years.

If the minimum wage had been increased in small increments every year during those 12 years and in the years since, it most likely would have kept better pace with inflation and retained the same buying power it had in 1973.

To address another objection, that it should be only a stepping stone to a better job, well, that’s the ideal, but not how it always works out in real life.  And we must deal with this issue and those involved by how it really is, not by some ideal of how it should be.

First, there are thousands, if not millions, of college graduates and those in skilled trades already out there competing for a finite number of jobs, where there aren’t enough jobs for all those wanting them.  Adding every current minimum wage worker to that pool of applicants isn’t going to help matters any.

Second, with the student loan system currently the way it is, it is truly a gamble to take out such loans for further education, when one doesn’t have reasonable certainty that they will find jobs in their field upon graduation.  Many times, the person ends up in a worse situation than what they were in before — unable to find work in their field and now with the millstone of staggering student loan debt around their necks.

Third, there are many people who don’t have the aptitude for a better job, yet they want to work and not be on welfare.  They give up as much or more of their time and work just as diligently.  Their jobs are often much more physically demanding, with disagreeable working conditions, and are accorded little to no respect.

Yet, unglamorous as such jobs are, they are necessary jobs.  There is honor in all honest work, and no one should b look down on those in minimum wage jobs.

Surely, minimum wage workers deserve the dignity of making enough money working one 40 hour job to at least afford the basic survival needs of life: adequate shelter, food, utilities, and the like.  No one should have to work 2 or 3 jobs just to keep a roof over their heads.

To those middle class and near-middle class workers who were able to go to school and get jobs in their field, their ire is misdirected.   The poor aren’t their enemy.

Their grievances would be better directed at the fat cat CEOs, whose salaries are hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of times that of their rank and file workers.  (See this article, CEO Vs Worker Pay, for more information).

As an example, the CEO of McDonald’s makes 1, 196 times more an hour than that of the average McDonald’s worker.  That’s $9, 247 an hour compared to the average worker salary of $7.73 per hour.  For the CEO, that comes out to nearly $380, 000 a week and nearly 20 million dollars a year, while the backbone workers of McDonalds don’t make enough to rent an apartment or buy food without food stamps. Does any CEO really need to make that much money?

The one-percenters chortle with glee whenever middle class workers, who have legitimate grievances as well, misdirect the ire properly aimed at them at the poor instead.

Don’t be a tool.  Be angry, but focus your anger at the true culprits.

Today, I thought I’d share my thoughts on what I call “internet laughter”. That is, acronyms like LOL, LMAO, ROTFL, and others of this ilk. I find that more and more lately that this sort of thing really grates on my nerves.

The most common one, LOL, is the most irritating to me, in its ubiquitous inanity. It means “Laughing Out Loud”. Of course laughing is “out loud” 99.9% of the time; there’s no need to specify the “out loud” part. It’s silent laughter that would need specifying, I’m thinking. “Lolling” is even worse when it is written as “LOLOLOLOLOL” — laughing out loud, out loud, out loud, out loud, out loud. OK, we get it, no need for an echo!

LOL is written so often and many times where no laughter is intended, as to be essentially meaningless.   As in: “I went to the grocery store today. LOL.”  “I got a traffic ticket. LOL.”  “I did a load of laundry. LOL”  You get the idea.  It seems to have become the nervous twitch of the internet.

Back in 1995 or so, it was considered edgy and cool to use these new laughter acronyms. Now, it’s just dated and trite and has become old and tired, similar to those who type in ALL CAPS, all the time.

Me, I’m old school. I write “Haha”, “Hehe”, and the like, which are, at least, the actual sounds we make when we laugh, unlike the banal “LOL”.

Grumbling About Greetings

It’s that time of year again.

Peace on Earth and good will toward all?

Unfortunately, no, not for everyone.  For some conspiracy-minded conservative Christians, both pious and merely political, it’s time to resurrect the dead horse they refer to as “The War on Christmas”.

In the last few days on Facebook, I’ve seen a particular meme repeatedly that expresses the sentiment:  “It’s not Happy Holidays, It’s Merry Christmas!!!!!”   Such posts are accompanied by typical comments expressing the view that to give the greeting “Happy Holidays” or its cousin “Season’s Greetings” is to somehow take Christ out of Christmas and to persecute Christians who wish to celebrate Christmas.  They assert that Jesus’ birthday is the (sole) reason for the season.  They also take great umbrage at anyone who dares to refer to a Christmas tree as a “holiday tree”.  Some relate anecdotes of how they loudly proclaimed the sentiment in the meme above to unsuspecting cashiers in stores who had the effrontery to wish them Happy Holidays.  One, presumably young, woman expressed this sentiment, “” I don’t live my life to please others and if I offend you then oh well. ”

Seriously?  Is this what they think the season is all about; arguing about word choice when wishing someone the joy of the season?  Do they think that such a childish and peevish attitude accurately reflects the Jesus Christ they claim to champion? Don’t they know that such an attitude totally defeats the purpose of giving such a greeting, which is meant to wish joy and goodwill to the recipient?  Do they think anyone will want to become a Christian after being berated in such a petty manner?

“Love thy neighbor”, indeed.  Pardon me for a moment while I roll my eyes.

Some young and not so young people apparently have the mistaken impression that the terms Happy Holidays and Seasons’ Greetings were recently invented within the last ten years just to annoy Christians, which couldn’t be further from the truth. These greetings have existed all during my 54 years on the planet  and existed well before I was born.

These terms simply acknowledge that there is more than one holiday at this time of year and they were meant to cover them all.   When I was a kid in the 6os, “Happy Holidays” and “Season’s Greetings” were commonly used as a catch-all term to give wishes for both Christmas and New Year’s Day together and were often seen on greeting cards.  In public situations with strangers or those one did not know well, it was a handy way to wish the goodwill of the season when one didn’t know which religious holidays an individual might celebrate, if any.   Among family, friends, and those whom one knew reasonably well, one said Merry/Happy Christmas, Happy Chanukah, Happy Solstice, or whatever applied and, again, no one got offended if they got the “wrong” greeting.

For those who think “Happy Holidays” is a bit of  “political correctness”, let me point out that no one was politically correct in the mid 60s or before.  Back then, it was simply known as “good manners” and “common courtesy”.

No nefarious purposes were intended, and no one at all was offended by such greetings, even conservative Christians.  People graciously accepted such wishes of goodwill in the spirit they were intended.

To those who assert that the season has “always” been about Christmas and that the birth of Jesus is the sole reason for the season, most Christian scholars agree that Jesus was not born on December 25th, but rather in the spring or summer.  Pagans had long celebrated the winter solstice at this time in December, so early church leaders picked this time to celebrate the birth of Christ and  re-purposed the Pagan celebration by appropriating several Pagan traditions along the way, hoping it would make it easier to convert Pagans to Christianity.  Decorated evergreen trees, holly, mistletoe, Yule logs, giving and receiving holiday gifts, the dinner feast, are all borrowed from Pagans. The original “reason for the season”, then,  was the Earth’s axial tilt; the solstice.
It’s also interesting to note that Puritans in Colonial America even banned the celebration of Christmas from 1659 to 1681, well cognizant of the Pagan roots of many Christmas traditions.

Personally, I don’t care which greeting anyone uses with me, as long as it’s sincere and meant to wish me goodwill.  I’m just happy that someone took the time to give me the good wishes of the season.   This time of year isn’t just about me; it’s about everyone.

There are real problems in this world. Whether a person says Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays isn’t one of them — it’s a petty, first world “problem”. There are people in this world who don’t have enough to eat, a home to live in, and are dying of curable diseases. People need to take a moment and think about what really matters.  A little bit of tolerance and goodwill goes a long way this time of year.


I recommend this excellent blog post written by a Christian in response to those Christians who are offended by the use of “Happy Holidays”:  Happy Holidays and Other Four Letter Words.


Work Hard or Work Smart?

People in the workplace are often complimented by saying that they “work hard”.   No one giving such a compliment ever refers to people who “work efficiently”, “work diligently”, “work smarter”, “work effectively”, and so on.  It’s always about working “hard”.

But what, exactly, does it mean to work “hard”, and is this the best way to be working?

Does working hard mean that you fill every second of each workday with activity to the limits of your physical and mental endurance so that you drag yourself home each night and drop into bed with exhaustion?  Does it mean you seek out pointless busy work when there is no real productive work to be done, just so that one is always Doing Something, even it accomplishes no useful productive goals?  Does it mean always doing the work that is the most difficult, even if it is not the work that is most productive and useful at that time?  Does it mean to rush around in a hectic frenzy, trying to do everything as fast as one possibly can, without sufficient care to do the work properly?  All of that is working “hard”, but it’s not always the most effective way to work.

Maybe I’m splitting hairs, but I’d much rather be referred to as an effective worker or one who works smarter, rather than as a hard worker.

Your mileage may vary, of course.