Last year, many citizens, disgruntled with where the country was heading, took to the streets, expressing their collective discontent. Most did not return home at night, and instead chose to camp overnight in city parks, outside municipal halls, and even outside Wall Street in Manhattan. Indeed, the movement came to be known as Occupy Wall Street.
These ten of thousands who believed passionately about their causes can rightly be called firebrands. Firebrands have occupied most of history, from those who questioned Roman rule to those like Susan B. Anthony, who petitioned for women’s rights.
Now we go from embracing a cause to rejecting a cause. An apostate is one who abandons his or her faith. Perhaps the most famous apostate of the 20th century was Joseph Stalin. History remembers him for killing 20 million people. But what many forget is that Stalin was studying to become a priest. He had spent five years in a Greek orthodox seminary before his apostasy (apostasy is the noun form of ‘apostate.’).
I remember as a young boy, I dreaded going to school. Oftentimes, I would play sick to avoid going to school. I’d become quite the consummate thespian, feigning shakes, sneezes, and just about anything that would dupe my poor mother into thinking that I was actually sick. After a while, my dad caught on and was a little more skeptical of my histrionics. He used a far more objective measure—the thermometer. Since I couldn’t fake a fever, my days of a malingering were short-lived.
I’m proud to say I haven’t been a malingerer in decades. Nonetheless, malingerers are all about us. With a hoarse, pleading voice, they call up their respective bosses and pull theatrics very similar to those I pulled as a child. Luckily for them, bosses can’t use a thermometer over the phone.
The Philistines were an ancient people who eventually migrated to what is now the modern day Israel/Palestine. They figured largely in the bible. Many have heard of the story of David and Goliath. Goliath was the scary giant who effortlessly felled his opponents, until the diminutive David came along with his slingshot.
In general, the philistines were known to be a crude and uncultivated folk, and I suppose that is how we get the definition of philistine: one who treats the arts with contempt. So if you know someone who thinks Monet’s water lilies look like elaborate smudges, or who thinks Mozart’s music is for wussies, you are probably dealing with a philistine.
Now we go from snubbing the arts to embracing them. A dilettante though is no expert. They will be able to describe the techniques Monet used to paint those water lilies, and elaborate upon how Mozart wrote music. But don’t ask them to paint anything, or worse yet, write an entire symphony. A dilettante is a mere dabbler of the arts: one who has a superficial appreciation, but does not exhibit mastery.
‘Dilettante’ can have a far more wide-ranging application. It can be used to describe anyone with a superficial appreciation of a field of study. Perhaps, you yourself are a vocabulary ‘dilettante’, one who hopes to become a bona fide maven of the English lexicon come test day.