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

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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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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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Big Questions
Why Does Japan Have Blue Traffic Lights Instead of Green?
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ANTTI T. NISSINEN, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

In Japan, a game of Red Light, Green Light might be more like Red Light, Blue Light. Because of a linguistic quirk of Japanese, some of the country’s street lights feature "go" signals that are distinctly more blue than green, as Atlas Obscura alerts us, making the country an outlier in international road design.

Different languages refer to colors very differently. For instance, some languages, like Russian and Japanese, have different words for light blue and dark blue, treating them as two distinct colors. And some languages lump colors English speakers see as distinct together under the same umbrella, using the same word for green and blue, for instance. Again, Japanese is one of those languages. While there are now separate terms for blue and green, in Old Japanese, the word ao was used for both colors—what English-speaking scholars label grue.

In modern Japanese, ao refers to blue, while the word midori means green, but you can see the overlap culturally, including at traffic intersections. Officially, the “go” color in traffic lights is called ao, even though traffic lights used to be a regular green, Reader’s Digest says. This posed a linguistic conundrum: How can bureaucrats call the lights ao in official literature if they're really midori?

Since it was written in 1968, dozens of countries around the world have signed the Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals, an international treaty aimed at standardizing traffic signals. Japan hasn’t signed (neither has the U.S.), but the country has nevertheless moved toward more internationalized signals.

They ended up splitting the difference between international law and linguists' outcry. Since 1973, the Japanese government has decreed that traffic lights should be green—but that they be the bluest shade of green. They can still qualify as ao, but they're also green enough to mean go to foreigners. But, as Atlas Obscura points out, when drivers take their licensing test, they have to go through a vision test that includes the ability to distinguish between red, yellow, and blue—not green.

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Using Words Like 'Really' A Lot Could Mean You're Really Stressed
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Are you feeling really exhausted? Or have you noticed that it's incredibly hot out today?

If you recognize the adverbs above as appearing frequently in your own speech, it could be a sign that you're stressed. At least, those are the findings in a recent study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. As Nature reports, researchers found that peppering our speech with "function words" is a pretty accurate indicator of our anxiety levels.

Function words differ from verbs and nouns in that they don't mean much on their own and mostly serve to clarify the words around them. Included in this group are pronouns, adverbs, and adjectives. A team of American researchers suspected that people use these words more frequently when they're stressed, so to test their hypothesis, they hooked up recording devices to 143 volunteers.

After transcribing and analyzing audio clips recorded periodically over the course of two days, the researchers compared subjects' speech patterns to the gene expressions of certain white blood cells in their bodies that are susceptible to stress. They found that people exhibiting the biological symptoms of stress talked less overall, but when they did speak up they were more likely to use words like really and incredibly.

They also preferred the pronouns me and mine over them and their, possibly indicating their self-absorbed world view when under pressure. The appearance of these trends predicted stress in the volunteers' genes more accurately than their own self-assessments. As study co-author Matthias Mehl told Nature, this could be a reason for doctors to "listen beyond the content" of the symptoms their patients report and pay greater attention "to the way it is expressed" in the future.

One reason function words are such a great indicator of stress is that we often insert them into our sentences unconsciously, while our choice of words like nouns and verbs is more deliberate. Anxiety isn't the only thing that influences our speech without us realizing it. Hearing ideas we agree with also has a way of shaping our syntax.

[h/t Nature]


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