Bird-watching is a self-explanatory hobby. What is gongoozling, though? Or scutelliphily? Hobbyists are passionate about activities with some interesting names.
Let’s start with birds. Bird-watching is a sort of gateway hobby. According to the Daily Birder website, this is what you’re doing “if you wander out to your backyard and look at the birds.” Birding is more serious – you might take trips to watch birds, study bird biology, and buy really nice binoculars. And then there are the twitchers, who travel hundreds of miles and spend hours waiting in bushes in order to spot particular rare species on their “life list.”
Twitching (sometimes called chasing in the United States) appears to have acquired its name because these birders metaphorically vibrate with excitement at the thought of ticking (“checking”) off species on their list.
The British participate in many observational hobbies. Trainspotting is not what I’d imagined it to be, which was shouting “Look, a train!” when one rumbled past. It is more like twitching, seeking out particular kinds of engines and cars, and making note of their numbers. Trainspotters often study railway history and engineering as well. Bashers are rail fans who enjoying riding trains instead of merely watching them.
If you like flat boats on human-made waterways, you could try gongoozling (“watching boats and activities on canals ... for pleasure,” according to Cambridge Dictionary). This word is apparently a combination of the Lincolnshire dialect terms gawn (“stare vacantly or curiously”) and gooze (“stare aimlessly, gape”).
While these names all have Old English or French roots, the collecting hobbies preferred the more scientific-sounding Latin and Greek. Stamp collectors chose philately, a word coined by the great French collector Georges Herpin from the Greek philo (“love of”) and ateleia (“free from tax or charge” – because a stamp exempts the recipient from payment). By the 1940s, if you collected trading cards, it was cartophily (“love of cards”); matchboxes, phillumeny (“loving light”); patches or badges, scutelliphily (“loving little shields”).
Britain’s National Rail Service explains that trainspotting became a craze after World War II because “there was a desire for order. ... Train spotting provided this order as well as instant companionship ... because complete strangers knew they shared a common interest.”
The same might be said of all these hobbies, which have more in common besides their intriguing names. They provide a ready-made community and a system for putting at least one small corner of the world in order.