The word 'Naturalism'.
The word 'nature' does not confuse many, which is itself a little confusing, since it can have over two dozen meanings.
The word 'nature' is a broad word. The word 'naturalist' is a little narrower. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, 'naturalist' can mean:
1) A expert or student in natural history.
2) a person who practises naturalism in art or literature.
So far so simple, but to make good sense of the above, we just need to check what the word 'naturalism' means. And it is at this point that we accidentally step on the plate and detonate an etymological bomb. Why?
Here is the OED's definition of naturalism:
1) (in art and literature) a style and theory of representation based on the accurate depiction of detail: his attack on naturalism in TV drama
2) the philosophical belief that everything arises from natural properties and causes, and supernatural or spiritual explanations are excluded or discounted: this romanticized attitude to the world did conflict with his avowed naturalism
3) (in moral philosophy) the theory that ethical statements can be derived from non-ethical ones.
Do you see the problem?
It is this, naturalism has nothing to do with natural history. That is according to formal sources like the OED, or Cambridge University, anyway.
So we find ourselves in the situation where you if you have an interest in nature, you can become a naturalist, but if you have an interest in naturalism, you have no interest in natural history (nature as most of us know it), although you do become a naturalist.
Why have I bothered to write this blog post, you might well wonder? Well, the reason is because I think this is an example of where the formal definition lags the common usage. The word 'naturalism' is being adopted by natural historians and popular usage in this context is changing its meaning. Bastardizing it, as far as the strictest are concerned, but I'm of the school that if the rules don't work then they are the wrong rules. (And yes, if you're wondering, I was one of those constantly in trouble at school.)
Put another, better way:
The word is changing, I believe, and twenty years from now I think the word 'naturalism' will be more widely understood, both formally and informally, to mean an interest in natural history. This will happen because 'naturalism' is a lovely word and it is much more succinct than 'an interest in natural history'.
But it will happen also because of the power of the majority and common usage. There are probably far more people with an interest in natural history, than there are with an interest in naturalism in the sense of art and literature or 'the philosophical belief that everything arises from natural properties and causes, and supernatural or spiritual explanations are excluded or discounted.'
Stand aside one group of naturalists, because the other bigger group wants your word, 'naturalism', and we intend to have it. Nobody needs to get hurt during this raid, we're just going to go into the vault, take the word and use it to mean 'an interest in natural history'. Don't touch the alarms, nobody needs to get shot.
There were a lot of violent metaphors in that post for some reason. Just seemed natural.