autodidact

Discuss word origins and meanings.
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autodidact

Post by tony h » Thu Jun 01, 2017 9:12 am

Maybe I should have been able to find this out myself.

An autodidact is someone who is self taught. Ok so far. So if I decide to learn Swahili or fluid mechanics from books I can properly be described as an autodidact - although one does question who isn't to some degree as, surely, everyone must have learnt something on their own? Or is there a sense of scale of learning that allows one to be an autodidact?

This is my real question: is autodidactic learning only to do with current knowledge or can it also be for the invention of knowledge - or is that something different?
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Signature: tony

With the right context almost anything can sound appropriate.

Re: autodidact

Post by Erik_Kowal » Thu Jun 01, 2017 5:41 pm

Most people I know (or know of) whom others have described as autodidacts have shared at least some of the following characteristics:

1) Most of them have either missed out on formal education (especially higher education), or else have pursued knowledge in fields having little connection with their formal education or training;
2) They have tended to be obsessive in their habits of reading and learning;
3) They have usually been men;
4) They have pursued their curiosity rather than a systematic programme of learning, so they may have known a great deal about one or more particular areas while having surprisingly little (or no) knowledge of many others.

Those are my observations, for what they're worth; make of them what you will. I would not consider any of them to be a defining characteristic of the type.

I would term an autodidact who is actively seeking out new knowledge an inventor, researcher or theoretician, depending on the precise type of investigation being undertaken.
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Re: autodidact

Post by BonnieL » Fri Jun 02, 2017 2:55 am

My first brush with the word was the book The Day I Became an Autodidact by Kendall Hailey.
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Re: autodidact

Post by tony h » Sun Jun 04, 2017 11:10 am

Thanks for the replies. I am coming to the conclusion that it isn't a very useful word as the self-taught element is a sliding scale of their whole learnt knowledge. I found this list of autodidacts https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_autodidacts.

As such, it seems that to be an autodidact you are self-taught in something or a range of things. But in usage; to say a maths professor is a self-taught linguist seems more workable than to say he is an autodidact linguist. Maybe saying he is an autodidact because he is self-taught linguist works.

PS it then begs the question of how much self learning, what level of expertise, is required to be an autodidact?
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Signature: tony

With the right context almost anything can sound appropriate.

Re: autodidact

Post by Erik_Kowal » Sun Jun 04, 2017 12:53 pm

As soon as you describe someone as being self-taught, it becomes superfluous also to refer to them as an autodidact.

Given that we have all taught ourselves something in our time but usually don't call ourselves autodidacts merely on that basis, I'd say that the label is best attached to those who are self-taught in a context that makes their efforts laborious or difficult: for example, being dyslexic, in prison, in the ghetto, among anti-intellectuals, without money and/or study materials, in a country whose language you hardly speak, contrary to a prevailing orthodoxy, or while working multiple jobs.
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