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.


  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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