Ask a Dilettante – Why “Dilettante”/Aren’t You Insulting Yourself?

I looked up the word “dilettante.” Isn’t it an insult? Why do you call yourself that? Do you have self-esteem issues?

This question has come up not infrequently, so it’s time to explain. The whole concept of an “advice” column is ludicrous. A person writes a half-page letter bitching about some complicated personal issue or more global problem, and the columnist then responds with terse analysis of the situation. As if that’s all there is to it. Isn’t that a little condescending? Aren’t most issues just a bit more complex than that? But, advice columns are fun to read. There’s a vicarious thrill in hearing about someone’s cross-dressing husband. There’s a sense of community gained in knowing that you are not the only person completely put off by the woman. There’s an opportunity to reflect on the fact that you, too, have a sneaking suspicion that your boyfriend isn’t really taking the male birth control pill.

Thus, Ask a Dilettante. By stating that the columnist is, at best, a dabbler (jack(son) of all trades, master of none), there’s no need to worry that someone is going to take any of this too seriously. Unless they want to.

[This column originally appeared in its entirety on Houstonist.]

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