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    There's nothing that's quite so delicious
    As a word that is perfectly vicious.
    I'm always exulted
    When someone's insulted
    By verbiage aptly malicious.
    – adapted from Chares Elster
We all love the well-chosen insulting, pejorative word. (pejorative: tending to disparage or belittle). A pretender to medical skill is a quack, even if he holds an M.D. degree; an unscrupulous lawyer is a shyster or a pettifogger. What do we call incompetents in other fields of endeavor? I give you this week examples with the handy pejorative suffix -aster, from Latin.

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):
    Ben wrote a very informed satire of the Court. So informed was it that two other playwrights of the time, Marston and Dekker, were convinced they recognized themselves in two of the less-likeable characters. They promptly collaborated on a play satirizing Ben. Ben just as promptly fired back with The Poetaster: or, His Arraignment [1601], whose main character was the image of Marston, with Dekker in a more minor role. So Dekker['s] next play [was] Satiromastix, which translates to "the satirist whipped." The feud ended there, though. Ben was saved by the intervention of one Richard Martin, a lawyer with an actual sense of humor.
 
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medicaster – a medical charlatan; a quack
    Undeniably, some fringe-healers, confident of their own healing powers, have had a quota of successes when treating patients with stress-related disorders. The emotionally disturbed patient is more likely to respond to and have faith in an optimistic healer with impervious confidence in their own power than the average doctor who, like myself, generally is beset with any number of scientific doubts and reservations. But medicasters, even those as charismatic as Freda Dixon, must perforce be defeated when treating a terminal organic condition.
    – Dannie Abse, The Strange Case of Dr. Simmonds and Dr. Glas
 
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grammaticaster – a piddling, petty, pedantic grammarian
    Students, Chomsky replied, "ought to know the standard literary language with all its conventions [and] absurdities"—should "know it and be inside it and be able to use it freely," because the standard language is "a real cultural system," an important part of "a very rich cultural heritage."
    . . . .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]
 
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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
    Milton ventured to use the word "politicaster" to indicate the person who stands to the real politician in the same relation that the poetaster does to the poet. He is one of the large and ambitious families of the Would-Be's. He imitates what he is incapable of understanding. Let us adopt the term politicaster, and then enjoy the experience of expressing our heartfelt admiration for the honorable and quick-witted gentlemen who bear without reproach the grand old name of politician; a name "defamed by every charlatan, and soiled by all ignoble use."
    – Samuel McChord Crothers, In Praise Of Politicians, reprinted in Wall Street Journal, January 5, 2004, from a 1910 collection of the author's essays
witticaster – a witling; i.e., a pretender to wit or smartness
I cannot quote witticaster, but witling quotes show the fine art of invective.
    Ye newspaper witlings! ye pert scribbling folks! – Oliver Goldsmith.

    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
 
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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.
    Wordsworth, not when he was communicating it as a poet, but when he was merely talking about it as a philosopher (or philosophaster), said some very silly things.
    – 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)
 
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criticaster – a mean-spirited, contemptable, carping critic
Personally, I think of an ill-mannered puppy yapping and nipping at the heels of his betters.
    In selecting as the Novel of the Month Mark Twain's new story, A Yankee at the Court of King Arthur, I am aware that I expose myself to many remonstrances. ... Mark Twain gets "directlier at the heart" of the masses than any of the blue-china set of nimminy-pimminy criticaster.
    – 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
The Goebbels quote is noteworthy, in that 'criticaster' brings up so many google-hits in German that I cannot but believe it's also a German word. Can anyone advise?
 
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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 wowod@hotmail.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.
    Our annual university heads as a rule pray only for the greatest possible number of freshmen to squeeze money from, and do not care whether they are educated or not, provided they are sleek, well groomed, and good-looking, and in one word, men of means. Philosophasters innocent of the arts become Masters of Arts, and those are made wise by order who are endowed with no wisdom, and have no qualifications for a degree save a desire for it. Theologasters, if they can but pay, have enough learning and to spare, and proceed to the very highest degrees. Hence it comes that such a pack of vile buffoons, ignoramuses wandering in the twilight of learning, ghosts of clergymen, itinerant quacks, dolts, clods, asses, mere cattle ...
 
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quote:
Today's quotation is from his 1921 masterpiece...
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.
 
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1621, of course.

[mutters at his own stupidity]
 
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I was saddened that my favorite -aster word didn't make the grade: oleaster 'wild olvietree, oleaster'.
 
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That's what I like about our arnie, always keeping us on our toes! Good catch!
 
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The sedges haunt their harvest,
In every meadow's nook;
And asters by the brookside
Make asters in the brook.
 
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