As a word that is perfectly vicious.
I'm always exulted
When someone's insulted
By verbiage aptly malicious.
– adapted from Chares Elster
poetaster – a poet who writes insignificant, tawdry or shoddy poetry; an inferior rhymer; a rhymester
The word figures in literary history. From Marchette Chute, Ben Jonson of Westminster (1953):
medicaster – a medical charlatan; a quack
– Dannie Abse, The Strange Case of Dr. Simmonds and Dr. Glas
grammaticaster – a piddling, petty, pedantic grammarian
. . . .Citing that answer, resolute grammaticasters will feel justified in continuing to teach They thought him to be me but He was thought to be I.
– James Sledd, University of Texas, in JAC magazine, 1992 [JAC won the 2000 Phoenix Award for Significant Editorial Achievement, from the Council of Learned Journals]
The -aster words could be useful in conversation, though they are extremely rare (some so rare that I cannot even find a modern illustrative quotation). In conversation the hearer would readily understand the meaning, by drawing the subject from the word's first part and the scornful putdown from voice and context.
Shall we resurrect these words? For example, wouldn't politicaster be a fine word to use during the US election campaigns?
politicaster – a petty politician; a pretender or dabbler in politics
– Samuel McChord Crothers, In Praise Of Politicians, reprinted in Wall Street Journal, January 5, 2004, from a 1910 collection of the author's essays
I cannot quote witticaster, but witling quotes show the fine art of invective.
Go, Wilberforce with narrow skull,
Go home and preach away at Hull.
No longer in the Senate cackle
In strains that suit the tabernacle;
I hate your little witling sneer,
Your pert and self-sufficient leer.
Mischief to trade sits on your lip,
Insects will gnaw the noblest ship.
Go, Wilberforce, begone, for shame,
Thou dwarf with big resounding name.
– James Boswell
philosophaster – a pretender to philosophy
Robert Burton, whom we will meet later, wrote a 1606 play titled Philosophaster. Make what you will of the fact that William Buckley owned a manuscript copy of Philosophaster.
We illustrate that word with a quotation critiquing the poet Wordsworth. You can also enjoy the same critique expressed in sonnet form.
– C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves
Two voices are there: one is of the deep;
It learns the storm-cloud's thunderous melody,
Now roars, now murmurs with the changing sea,
Now bird-like pipes, now closes soft in sleep:
And one is of an old half-witted sheep
Which bleats articulate monotony,
And indicates that two and one are three,
That grass is green, lakes damp, and mountains steep:
And, Wordsworth, both are thine: at certain times
Forth from the heart of thy melodious rhymes,
The form and pressure of high thoughts will burst:
At other times -- good Lord! I'd rather be
Quite unacquainted with the A.B.C.
Than write such hopeless rubbish as thy worst.
– James Kenneth Stephen (1859-1892)
Here is another -aster word for which I have no quotation.
countercaster – a caster of accounts; a reckoner; a bookkeeper (used contemptuously)
criticaster – a mean-spirited, contemptable, carping critic
Personally, I think of an ill-mannered puppy yapping and nipping at the heels of his betters.
– William T. Sneed, Review of Reviews (London), Feb. 1890
He [Joseph Goebbels] set going a two-months-long campaign against the `alarmists and criticaster, the rumor-mongers and idlers, the saboteurs and agitators.'
– Hans Bernd Gisevius, et al, To the Bitter End
A call to our readers: While doing this week's theme I've tremendously enjoyed finding robust, red-blooded invective from the Elizabethans and their followers. Surely all would enjoy a theme spending a week on invective from authors of the time, the time of Swift, Donne, Ben Jonson, Pope, and many other wicked wits wielding sharp pens. I do not have enough examples yet, but the hunt continues! Would you be so good as to send to me, at email@example.com, any that come to mind? Thank you.
theologaster – a petty or contemptable theologian
We recently met Robert Burton as author of the play Philosophaster. Today's quotation is from his 1921 masterpiece, The Anatomy of Melancholy. Lewellyn Powys called this work "the greatest work of prose of the greatest period of English prose-writing," while the celebrated surgeon William Osler declared it the greatest of medical treatises. And Dr. Johnson, Boswell reports, said it was the only book that he rose early in the morning to read with pleasure.
Note: Burton wrote part of this work in Latin, including this part, and I cannot tell whether this translation was done by Burton himself or by another.
quote:To quote the editor of Private Eye magazine: shurely shome mishtake?
Build a man a fire and he's warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he's warm for the rest of his life.
1621, of course.
[mutters at his own stupidity]
I was saddened that my favorite -aster word didn't make the grade: oleaster 'wild olvietree, oleaster'.
That's what I like about our arnie, always keeping us on our toes! Good catch!
The sedges haunt their harvest,
In every meadow's nook;
And asters by the brookside
Make asters in the brook.