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Revision as of 03:56, 20 April 2023 by John Leach (talk | contribs) (Amended first sentence as I think the OED has hit the nail on the head with its emphasis on "regularly for pleasure".)
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A hobby is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as "an activity done regularly for pleasure". Any such activity may be a pastime, avocation, para-profession or part time occupation. Hobbies are traditionally thought of as being diversions rather than occupations or professions, but that is not the complete picture, because hobbies encompass a wide variety of activities, and many people make hobbies of endeavours that are professions for many other people.

For example, many sports are practiced professionally by a great number of people, but this is a small percentage compared to the numbers who play sports recreationally. People may become skilled in any number of areas: bricklaying, woodworking, painting or tailoring to name a few; through practice or informal study. These may be parlayed into supplemental income as cottage industries, or (especially with the addition of formal education, apprenticeship or licensing) small business.

In general, a hobby differs from an occupation in terms of:

  • educational/vocational training requirements
  • amount of remuneration received, if any

Defining hobbies

Acting and singing are performance activities that may be occupations or hobbies. These days a professional actor or singer has learned his craft at a vocational school or university, often supplemented by private lessons with reputable professionals. A person who acts or sings as a hobby may not have formal training. However, the line between hobbyism and professionalism can be blurred by two factors: one, many professional performers do learn the necessary skills by honing their innate talents through apprenticeship, and two, many people, no matter how well trained, are unable to find steady performance work, and so they perform free, or sporadically, or for wages so low they cannot earn a living and must supplement their income in other ways.

The hobby of stamp collecting provides another example. Hobbyists collect stamps for fun. Some people make a distinction between stamp collecting and philately, a word which implies knowledge of the nature and value of stamps, beyond simply collecting what appeals to one. Stamp collectors do not have to be philatelists; not all philatelists own their own stamp collections, some philatelists make a living brokering stamps, producing stamp-related publications, or the paraphernalia necessary for stamp collecting. Numismatics and notaphily have similar parallels.

Another consideration is that serious hobbyists frequently develop a level of expertise that rivals that of educated professionals. Persons involved in historical recreation may have such knowledge that they are consulted by filmmakers and costumers; collectors may be consulted by museum curators.

The ancient Chinese valued scholarship above all other pursuits, but relatively few people were able to support themselves solely on the pursuit of education, so it became customary for people to say that they were (name of trade) by occupation, but a scholar by avocation.

Hobbies and remuneration

The tax laws of many developed countries define hobbies indirectly. Businesses and individuals may be taxed differently depending on the scope of activity in terms of the amount of money it generates. A business that does not make money over a period of time, usually a few years, is perceived as a hobby and its tax status changes. If an individual makes a limited amount of money at an activity, it may be seen as a hobby and be exempt from certain kinds of personal tax.

Finally, an activity may begin as a hobby, but turn into a cottage industry or a highly profitable larger venture. Animal fancy, gardening and cooking are activities with this type of potential. Additionally, the activity itself may not be innately money-making, but may spawn a host of money-making ventures, such as the many businesses associated with the pet industry.

Sports, collecting, cookery, games, gardening, birdwatching, sewing and other needlework, and the creative arts are among the most popular hobbies.

For a more comprehensive list, see the catalog page.