What is a common word for a person who guides visitors through an art gallery or a museum? Is there any substitude for the word "docent," which I couldn't find in many of my dictionaries. Only Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, 3rd edition, has this entry. Thank you so much.
This thread reminded me of the story about the Tour Guide (Docent) at the Natural History Museum who said, as his group approached a dynosaur skeleton, "This particular specimen is four million and thirteen years old.' One of the group remarked that it was amazing how scientists were able to pinpoint the age of fossils so accurately, whereupon the guide said, "Well, not really. This one was 4 million years old when I started and that'll be 14 years ago next March!"
Be careful with 'curator' - it's often a high-ranking person who organizes exhibitions, or the titular head of a museum. The people who show visitors round exhibitions are just (in Br Eng) 'guides'. In very smalll museums - the Toy Museum at Bourton-on-the-Water springs to mind - the one guide may also be the curator. But a curator at the British Museum wears a collar and tie rather than a uniform.
Funny story about a Curator:
I was a member at the Art Institute of Chicago. Went to see a major exhibit and noticed a small exhibition on Industrial Design from Japan. Among the various tools, machines, and other gadgets was one labeled "Industrial Razor". I was quite puzzled as to what an Industrial Razor could be used for when it dawned on me that probably the name was dictated over the phone and, because Asians often have trouble pronouncing our letter L, it was more likely an Industrial Laser, but sounded like razor when the Japanese contact talked about it. It looked a lot like it could be a laser level- something with which I am rather familiar.
After a good laugh, I, being the conscientious Member that I was, called the museum on Monday to bring this potentially embarassing error to their attention, and was surprised to find myself actually talking to The Curator of that exhibit. I explained my idea and listened as the curator mulled the situation over: "Hmmm, I see... Razor... Laser... We'd have to make a new label... " (and then rather quickly) "Okay- thank you for bringing this to our attention"
I'm confident nothing was ever done about it, so have rather lowered my level of respect for the scholarship of museum curators.
I know that Chinese are embarassed by this kind of thing and work very hard to try to avoid it. Here was a case of the same thing happening in reverse in the US!