GRAMMATICASTER.

The Discouraging Word, sunk deep in the perusal of Thomas Rymer (known today mainly for his dismissal of Othello as a “bloody farce”), has posted an entry about grammaticaster, a word used by Rymer to dismiss French purveyors of “eternal triflings.” I am very pleased to discover this obscurer counterpart to poetaster, an insulting term for poets; furthermore, it led me to the OED entry for the suffix -aster:

a. L. -aster, suffix of ns. and adjs., expressing incomplete resemblance, hence generally pejorative (Diez); e.g. L. philosophaster a petty philosopher, oleaster a wild or bastard olive, surdaster a little deaf. Extensively used in Rom. langs. (It. -astro, Sp. -astro, -astre, Pr. -astre, OF. -astre, mod.F. -âtre), esp. in F. as adj. suffix, e.g. bleuâtre bluish, blanchâtre whitish, etc. In Eng. only in words from L. or Romance, e.g. astrologaster, grammaticaster, oleaster, poetaster, politicaster.

I must say, I think they’ve allowed the suffix to unduly influence their definition of oleaster, “The true Wild Olive (Olea Oleaster), the wild variety (or sub-species) of the cultivated Olive, with more or less thorny branches and small worthless fruit”; I haven’t found any other sources that render so harsh a verdict. “Worthless” is a word that should not be tossed around lightly by a reference work.


A couple of additional remarks. I am enough of a child of the late twentieth century that the word made me think of a guitar able to parse sentences as well as play the blues, and TDW’s final quote, from Arthur WaughWilliam Carlos Williams, is perhaps the most esoteric allusion I’ve ever seen in a review ostensibly meant for the general reader: “Ezra Pound is a Boscan who has met his Navagiero.” It turns out that Andrea Navagero (aka Navagiero) was the Venetian ambassador to Spain who in the late 1520s urged Juan Boscán Almogaver, a poet at the court of Charles V, to adopt Italian meters and verse forms, adding a new element to Spanish poetry. I can’t believe this fact was familiar to the readers of the Quarterly Review, even in 1916 1919. [Thanks to TDW for the corrected attribution, and for the investigation of puckersnatch in his Addendum.]
Oh, and I think politicaster is a word that could very usefully be revived.

Comments

  1. Always loved the –aster pejorative suffix in Latin (and its descendants in the Romance languages). Couldn’t find an etymology for it in a quick look over in the usual places. Hmm. Found another Latin entry, Antoniaster, though.

  2. And of course the noxious weed, the asteraster, not really a pretty flower at all.

  3. Oh, now you’ve made me lose half and hour scrolling through the online OED’s search results for *aster. In among the concertmasters and the breakfasters, I’ve found my new favorite -aster: the complementaster.
    By the way, this is a mighty fine blog you have here. Mighty fine.

  4. Who’s been tasting poe?

  5. Dis-aster? Someone who is very poor at dissing, but tries anyway?

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