I see you're still dabbling in dry lining?

Hello everyone. Can you please tell me if the expression ‘to dabble in something’ can have a positive meaning especially in the sentence below? As I understand it, to dabble means to play around with something or to do something superficially. Let’s say a person (Frank) is a self-employed dry liner/plasterer. He puts an ad in the newspaper offering his services. An old acquaintance and former competitor (Mike) of his sees the ad and writes to him: ‘I see you’re still dabbling in dry lining. Maybe, you can get me a job too?’

What message is Mike trying to convey by using the word ‘dabbling’? Is he saying that he doesn’t think much of Frank’s work but wouldn’t mind getting a job from him anyway?

Many thanks,

TOEIC short conversations: Leaving a message on the phone[YSaerTTEW443543]

Hi Torsten,

Mike is being sarcastic. If somebody is self employed in a particular trade, then it’s hardly dabbling, at least not if they’re successful.

Since Mike’s being sarcastic, I don’t think he’s very serious about wanting a job with Frank. If he really wanted a job, he’d have asked if he could have a job. Asking Frank is he can get him a job is how you’d ask a friend who works for somebody else if they could get you a job with the same person they work for.

So again, there’s a sense of sarcasm asking Frank in that way. Since Frank is the boss, of course he can ‘get’ Mike a job, since it’s more a case of ‘giving’ not ‘getting’ the job.

It sounds more like he’s calling up Frank to tease him or give him a hard time in a friendly manner, versus seriously inquiring about a job.

Hi Skrej,

Thanks a lot for your detailed explanation. Could you please tell me if and how the situation would change if Frank had told Mike a couple of years before the ad that he would now concentrate on doing plumbing jobs rather than dry lining. Let’s assume Frank had told Mike that from now on he’s more into plumbing and dry lining is just a secondary field to him.[YSaerTTEW443543]

TOEIC short conversations: Giving directions on how to get to the stadium[YSaerTTEW443543]

Oh, well if Frank’s primary job is something else, say plumbing, and he’s just doing the dry lining (I think this would be called dry walling in AmE) as something on the side, then yes, Mike might very well say that Frank’s ‘dabbling in’ the secondary field.

In that case, there’s not the sense of sarcasm, but there is the allusion to or acknowledgment that the dry lining isn’t a dedicated, serious full time occupation. To say you’re dabbling in something is to say you’re not taking it too seriously, or not going at it full fledged, but treating it more like a hobby or experiment.

I might also use ‘dabbling in’ as a sort of self deprecation, or false modesty. Maybe I’ve taken up a hobby (painting) pretty seriously, but when somebody asks me if I do it, or if I’m very good at it, I might say “Oh, yeah, I’ve been dabbling in it lately.”

Morning Skrej,

Thank you very much for answering my question again.
Best regards,

TOEIC short conversations: Co-workers talk about the installation of the company’s new computer system.[YSaerTTEW443543]