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Pronounced /krɪtɪˈkæstə(r)/Help with pronunciation

It’s not much met with now, more’s the pity. This is one of its rare appearances in print:

If I were deemed kosher by that classist, racist, misogynistic bunch of criticasters, I would consider it time to retire my pens and legal pads.

A letter by Erica Jong in The New York Times, 1 Feb. 1998, on learning that her book, Of Blessed Memory, had been nominated for The Literary Review’s Bad Sex Award.

You may gather it is uncomplimentary. It refers to those who set themselves up as arbiters of taste and literary discernment but whose sensibilities are inadequate to the task. A blast against such petty critics was penned 150 years ago:

What amount of obtuseness will disqualify a criticaster who itches to be tinkering and cobbling the noblest passages of thought that ever issued from mortal brain, while at the same time he stumbles and bungles in sentences of that simplicity and grammatical clearness, as not to tax the powers of a third-form schoolboy to explain?

Notes and Queries, 11 Jun. 1853.

It was coined in the late seventeenth century by adding the ending -aster to critic. The suffix came directly into English from Latin, where it meant an incomplete resemblance. English adapted it to refer to a person of inferior or inadequate qualities. It turns up in a small number of words, of which poetaster, a person who writes bad poetry, and philosophaster, a shallow or pretentious philosopher, are the least rare.

Others of similar form — though rarely employed by anybody — are politicaster, a petty or contemptible politician, grammaticaster, a contemptuous term for a petty or inferior grammarian, mathematicaster, a minor or inferior mathematician and witticaster, an inferior wit or witling. In all these cases, the ending looks like -caster because of a c from the root.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 4 Jun. 2011

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
This page URL: http://www.worldwidewords.org/weirdwords/ww-cri4.htm
Last modified: 4 June 2011.