dating of “amateur” = not professional
Posted: 27 October 2012 08:10 AM   [ Ignore ]
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  236
Joined  2007-02-13

When did “amateur” take on the sense of someone who performs an activity without compensation, as contrasted with a “professional” who is paid to do it?  I have several mentions in the early-mid 1860s of early baseball clubs fielding their “amateurs” where the context suggests this means their less capable members, who presumably also devote less time to the game than their best players.  The dating is such that I doubt this is intended to suggest that the better players are paid.  This makes sense if we take “amateur” to mean persons playing simply for the love of the game, with a hint of “even though they stink”.  In the 1870s “amateur” ballplayers are as contrasted with professionals, with the amateurs at least in theory not receiving compensation.

I am wondering if there was a similar development of senses of “amateur” apart from baseball, and if so when?

Profile
 
 
Posted: 27 October 2012 08:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
Administrator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  4611
Joined  2007-01-03

The OED has this first citation under amateur, n. def. 2.a.:

1786 European Mag. Dec. 421/1 Dr. Percival..writes on philosophical subjects as an amateur rather than as a master.

You’ve probably checked Dickson, but he has a definition from Chadwick’s The Game of Base Ball, 1869, p. 38, that distinguishes two classes of amateurs, those who play “for exercise and amusement only” and those that are “unskilled in playing the game, but who know more of it than the ‘Muffins do.”

(Google won’t let be see Chadwick’s book to get the full quotation. Maybe those of you in the States will have better luck.)

Muffin, a term I hadn’t encountered before, is evidently nineteenth-century baseball’s equivalent to golf’s duffer. Dickson traces it to 1858.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 28 October 2012 01:30 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  236
Joined  2007-02-13
Dave Wilton - 27 October 2012 08:43 AM


Muffin, a term I hadn’t encountered before, is evidently nineteenth-century baseball’s equivalent to golf’s duffer. Dickson traces it to 1858.

Yes, “muffin” is a standard term of the era.  There was a fad for muffin matches, where the two clubs would send out their worst players.  These were considered high comedy, apparently including among the muffin players themselves.  We can see a hint of the word in the modern rules, which define an “error” in terms of a “fumble, muff or wild throw”.  I have never looked, but I would guess that this sense of “muff” is older, and “muffin” derived from it.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 28 October 2012 02:57 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  2301
Joined  2007-01-30

From OED.

muff, v.3

Etymology: < muff, n.5 1. A foolish, stupid, feeble, or incompetent person; spec. one who is clumsy or awkward in some sport or manual skill. to make a muff of oneself : to do something that makes oneself look ridiculous.
1819 J. H. Vaux New Vocab. Flash Lang. in Mem. 190 Mouth, a foolish silly person… Muff, an epithet synonymous with mouth.

colloq.

1. trans. Sport. To miss (a catch, a ball), esp. in cricket; to play (a shot, a game, etc.) badly. Also with it: to miss a catch, to play or perform badly.

[1827 W. Clarke Every Night Bk. 84 When one of the fancy dies, the survivors say, that he has..‘mizzled’—‘morrised’—or ‘muffed it’!]
1846 W. Denison Cricket: Sketches of Players 24 All the best of our players completely muffed their batting.
1861 T. Hughes Tom Brown at Oxf. I. xiii. 259 ‘Brazen-nose was better steered than Exeter.’ ‘They muffed it in the Gut, eh?’
1882 Philadelphia Press 12 Aug. 8 That usually reliable fielder muffed the fly.

The fancy of the 1827 cite is, I presume, boxing.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 28 October 2012 03:30 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  2783
Joined  2007-01-31

The verb is still quite common, at least in the US, and not exclusively used in sports.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 28 October 2012 04:15 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  2992
Joined  2007-02-26

Same in Australia.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 30 October 2012 02:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  811
Joined  2007-06-20

To “muff it” certainly used to be a common verb in the UK in my youth 45+ years ago with the meaning “to make a mistake/fail to carry out a task successfully”, but a quick Google News search looks to confirm my impression that it’s not in use any more in BrE - possibly because other senses of “muff” have leaked over from AmE ...

Profile
 
 
   
 
 
‹‹ Doubt as a Janus word      Odd Toppled Trees ››