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8 Terms for Enjoying Something (And the Subtle Differences Between Them)

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iStock (cat woman)

Do you enjoy something to the extent that you consider yourself something of an expert? Do you need a simple title for yourself to express that enjoyment? English conveniently offers a long list of nouns you can use to describe what kind of enjoyer you are: aficionado, enthusiast, buff, connoisseur, fanatic, fan, freak, nut. But they aren't all just interchangeable synonyms. Each carries connotations that you may or may not want to identify with.

A connotation is a hard-to-pin down feeling. It arises from a history of use. The words you have seen in combination with a term over the years will color your sense of that term. You can get some insight into word connotation by looking at collocates (words that frequently show up together) in large collections of linguistic data. The Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA) at Brigham Young University has more more than 520 million words of text (since 1990) and includes both spoken English and texts from fiction, magazines, newspapers, and academic journals.

I used COCA to find out which words were most strongly associated with "enjoyer" terms in phrases of the "X ENJOYER" type, yielding terms like cigar aficionado, aviation enthusiast, and fitness buff. For each term I took the top 10 most frequently occurring pairs, and then ranked them by Mutual Information (MI) score. The MI score is basically a measure of strongly linked the two words are. Here are the results.

1. AFICIONADO

The most frequent collocate in front of aficionado is cigar, and it also has the highest MI score. The magazine Cigar Aficionado plays a big part in this result, but it fits with the general vibe represented by the rest of the collocates (jazz, architecture, fashion, baseball, wine, gun, film, music, and art): macho culturedness. Aficionado is for when you enjoy something with swagger and money.

2. ENTHUSIAST

Although art and wine show up again here, enthusiast carries an overall flavor of machinery on its list with aviation, auto, computer, gun, and car. It highlights knowledge of facts, trivia, and mechanical explanations.

3. CONNOISSEUR

Connoisseur is not a very common word in English, but if you like wine you're probably going to see it. Connoisseur seems to be associated with things you taste—cigar, dessert, cocktail, beer, coffee. While wine aficionado and wine enthusiast do show up on those lists, when wine joins with connoisseur, it carries connotations of flavor, rather than just knowledge of vintages and terroir.

4. BUFF

I was surprised by this one. For me buff, goes most readily with history and war. I picture an independent scholar type who likes to hear himself talk. While history buff is the most frequent pairing with buff, fitness buff, conjuring a different sort of image, has the highest MI. This is because fitness has a lower overall frequency in the corpus than history.

5. LOVER

Animals figure prominently on the lover list (animal, cat, dog), connoting a real emotional connection between living beings. Nature also fits with this idea. But if this one is for lovers of animals, what's meat doing there? Meat enthusiast or connoisseur would imply some sort of knowledge base or heightened discriminatory abilities. Meat lover just implies pure physical or emotional enjoyment, much in the way that dog lover doesn't connote a knowledge of facts about dogs, just an emotional enjoyment of them.

6. FANATIC

Fanatic is for sports, but also, to a lesser extent, for a few other passions that one can get crazily caught up in. After buff, fitness has the closes connection with fanatic. A fitness buff knows a lot about keeping fit. A fitness fanatic takes it a little too far.

7. FAN

Fan may originally be a shortening of fanatic, but it carries less frantic or crazy energy and perhaps more of a sense of loyalty. The top three MI score spots go to teams with big followings. Sox probably benefits from the fact that two teams bear that name, though Red Sox fan is about three times more common than White Sox fan.

8. FREAK

A obsessiveness step beyond fanatic is freak. But here the connotations tend toward the highly regimented kind with neatness, germ, control, and organization. Gadget, computer, and TV also have a obsessive, mechanical aspect to them. A fitness freak is maybe a bit too strict and controlled about their regimen.

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Why Do Americans Call It ‘Soccer’ Instead of ‘Football’?
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While more Americans than ever are embracing soccer, they can't even get the sport's name right, according to some purists. For most of the world, including the vast majority of Europe and South America, it’s football, fútbol, or some other variation. In the United States, Canada, Japan, and a few other stragglers, it’s firmly known as soccer, much to the annoyance of those who can't understand how a sport played with feet and a ball can be called anything else. So why the conflict?

According to a paper [PDF] by University of Michigan professor Stefan Szymanski, it all began in England in the early 1800s, when a version of the sport of football—based on a game played by “common people” in the Middle Ages—found its way into the recreational scene of some of the country’s most privileged schools. To give uniformity to the competitions between these schools and clubs, a set of standard rules was drafted by students in Cambridge in 1848. These rules would become further solidified when they were adopted by the more organized Football Association in 1863.

It wasn't long before variations of the sport began to splinter off—in 1871, the Rugby Football Union was founded, using Rugby School rules from the 1830s that allowed a player to run with the ball in their hands. This new take on the sport would be known as rugby football, or rugger, to separate itself from association football, the traditional feet-only version of the sport. From there, association football would get the nickname assoccer, leading eventually to just soccer. The addition of an "er" at the end of a word was something of a trend at the time, which is why we get the awkward transformation of association into assoccer and soccer.

The first recorded American football game was between the colleges of Rutgers and Princeton in 1869 and used unique rules derived from those in both association and rugby football. Though this new, evolving game would just be called football in the U.S., elsewhere it would become known as gridiron football or American football, much in the way Gaelic football and Australian football have their own distinctions. Eventually in England, rugby football was shortened to just rugby, while association football simply became known as football. Which meant that now there were two footballs, on opposite sides of the Atlantic, and neither side would budge. And Americans would begin referring to England's football by the previous nickname, soccer.

Despite the confusion nowadays, soccer was still a colloquial term used in England well into the 20th century—it rose in popularity following World War II before falling out of favor in the 1970s and ‘80s, according to Szymanski. In more recent years, it’s mostly been used in England in a strictly American context, like when publications and the media refer to U.S. leagues like Major League Soccer (MLS). Currently, soccer is mostly used in countries that have their own competing version of football—including the United States, Canada, and Australia.

While it boils the blood of certain traditionalists, soccer is by no means an Americanism—like the sport itself, this is purely an English export.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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YouTube, Hélio Surdos
How a Deaf-Blind Person Watches the World Cup
YouTube, Hélio Surdos
YouTube, Hélio Surdos

Brazilian Sign Language interpreter Hélio Fonseca de Araújo woke up on the day before the opening of the World Cup in 2014 thinking about how he could help his friend Carlos, who is deaf and blind, get access to all the excitement. So he hit the hardware store, rigged up a tabletop model of the field, and enlisted his friend Regiane to provide extra interpretation for all the complex information that needs to come through in a game. He recently brought the setup out again for this World Cup.

Here you can see Carlos watching the Brazil vs. Croatia match live, while Hélio provides Brazilian Sign Language interpretation (which Carlos follows by feeling it with his own hands—this is called tactile signing), and Regiane relays information about fouls, cards, times, and player jersey numbers with social-haptic communication on Carlos’s back.

This is the moment in the second half when it appeared that Brazil had scored a goal, but a foul was called. Hélio later makes sure Carlos can see how Neymar covered his face with his shirt.

And here is Coutinho’s game-turning goal for Brazil.

If you're wondering why Carlos occasionally looks at the screen, many deaf blind people have some residual sight (or hearing). Many deaf-blind people become fluent in sign language as deaf people, before they begin to lose their sight.

See the entire video at Hélio’s YouTube channel here.

A version of this story ran in 2014.

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