Seth Brown: The Pursuit of Hobby-ness


NORTH ADAMS >> People often say, "You should get a hobby!" And whether they're saying it because you've just retired, because you're single, or because they want you to do something aside from write humor columns, it's almost always good advice. But not all hobbies are created equal.

A hobby, according to Merriam-Webster, is a small blue and white falcon. This is great for ornithologists, but only British men tend to be interested in watching birds all day. The other definition of a hobby is a leisure activity done for enjoyment and/or relaxation.

But as we learned from that bird meaning, one of the cardinal rules of language is that you can't just parrot whatever definition the dictionary is hawking. Because if your leisure activity is something that everyone does, it's not considered a hobby. Eating dinner is enjoyable, and also relaxing unless you have young children. But nobody would refer to eating as a hobby, because everyone does it.

Watching TV and movies is likewise enjoyable and relaxing, a leisure activity engaged in by most Americans. Which is why nobody calls it a hobby. I enjoy movies, but my favorite leisure activity is playing games. This is sufficiently uncommon that gaming is considered a hobby, and those of us who partake in it are sometimes called "gamers." I watch a lot of movies on Netflix, but I have never been called a "movier."

A fine line

It can be tricky to find a hobby enjoyed by the right number of people. If too many people enjoy it, it's not even considered a hobby, but if not enough people enjoy it, you will be looked at as a weirdo. For example, I have some friends who do something called "cosplay," which involves dressing up in costumes of their favorite characters, and others of them could tell you obscure statistics about how many times the Empire's Storm Troopers lucked out and hit their target at the rebel base. These people are considered strange nerds.

I have other friends who do something called "sportsfan," which involves dressing up in costumes of their favorite characters, and others of them could tell you obscure statistics about how many times the umpires called someone out and which players got a hit and got on base. These people are considered normal.

So as you can see, you'll want to find a hobby that is sufficiently popular that nobody realizes how weird it is. Many people enjoy prioritizing their own religious beliefs over health care for other people, and spend their free time asking the government to back them up. While some people are paid to do this as professional lobbyists, those who just do it in their free time are hobby lobbyists. Other people can't be bothered with talking to the government, and just enjoy shouting about how awful the government is until they lose their voice, and become hobby hoarse.

Yet not all hobbies contain the word hobby. One popular hobby is called "scrapbooking," which involves pasting lots of photographs and articles into a "book," which will then be put on a shelf and forgotten until it is eventually "scrapped."

Coin collecting is another classic hobby, properly called "numismatics" if you are collecting wheat pennies and the like. If you are collecting really old coins from before 1900, the preferred term is "oldmismatics."

However, some hobbies are completely useless. There's a good reason to avoid wasting time on something like collecting stamps:

Philately will get you nowhere.

Seth Brown is an award-winning humor columnist, author of "From God To Verse," and hopes bad puns will never be stamped out. His website is


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