Everyone's a Critic

8 obscure words for those who pass judgment

1 a : one who expresses a reasoned opinion on any matter especially involving a judgment of its value, truth, righteousness, beauty, or technique b : one who engages often professionally in the analysis, evaluation, or appreciation of works of art or artistic performances 2 : one given to harsh or captious judgment

While critics can be unbearable, the word critic originally referred (and still does refer) to someone who assesses a thing's quality or value—and where would we be without someone assessing quality and value for us? Watching worse movies and buying worse cars, probably.

Critic was borrowed from the Latin word criticus in the late 16th century but traces back to the Greek adjective kritikós, meaning "discerning, capable of judging." It predates the word referring to what a critic produces—criticism—by a few decades.


: an inferior or petty critic

By the late 17th century English speakers were annoyed enough by bad critics to adopt the word criticaster.

It's a simply constructed word, with the -aster suffix, which means "one that is inferior or not genuine," hitched to critic. The suffix was a popular one for a while, providing English with poetaster ("an inferior poet"), philologaster ("an incompetent philologist"), medicaster ("a medical charlatan"), and philosophaster ("a pretender or dabbler in philosophy")—to name the most common.


: a critic or teacher of music characterized by timid and excessive reliance upon rules

You will mostly encounter the term Beckmesser in reference to Richard Wagner's 1867 opera Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, in which Sixtus Beckmesser is a pedantic musical philistine. A music critic who thinks everything unconventional is abhorrent can be referred to with the same term.


: a bitter and usually enviously carping critic : one given to unjust quibbling and faultfinding

One lesson to be learned from the term Zoilus is that a path to lexical immortality lies in deep and severe criticism of the poetry of Homer. Another lesson to be learned is that such lexical immortality might not be worth it. Zoilus was a 4th century BCE Greek rhetorician and critic who didn't think that Homer was all that. Zoiluses today (or Zoili, for extra fun) are hard to take seriously because it's clear they're bitter and unfair and likely just jealous.


: a person who gives opinions in an authoritative manner usually through the mass media

Pundits today are frequently seen on television, offering their opinions about matters political and cultural. The word pundit comes from India, where the original pundits were highly respected teachers and leaders. (Its ultimate origin is the Sanskrit word paṇḍita, meaning "learned.") In English, the word pundit first referred to those same Hindu sages, but by the 1800s it had extended to other wise folk. In current use the word sometimes carries with it a hint of disdain for these would-be opinion makers.

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: a carping critic : faultfinder

This dictionary only addresses the source of this term—at the entry for Momus—but momus (entered in Merriam-Webster Unabridged) is too good a word for us to ignore in such a list as this, for momuses (or momi, if you prefer) should really be identified as such. Reserve this word for the worst kind of critic: eternally disgruntled, gallingly whiny, and impossible to please.

The word comes from the name of the Greek god of censure and mockery: Momus was such an annoying momus that he was eventually exiled from Mount Olympus.


: a severe critic

The original aristarch was Aristarchus of Samothrace, a Greek critic and grammarian who died in the 2nd century BCE. He had a lot to say about most of the important writers of his day (and of the days that preceded him) and Cicero and Horace regarded him as the supreme critic. Today the word is (albeit rarely) used to refer to severe rather than supreme critics, but we don't think that should stop anyone from applying it to either.


: a captious critic : faultfinder

If you need to refer to more than one smellfungus (and we're sorry if you do), you may use either smellfungi or smellfunguses. The word is only Latin in appearance: it was coined by British novelist Laurence Sterne to name a hypercritical traveler in his 1768 satirical novel A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy. Sterne was poking at another novelist by the name of Tobias Smollett, for Smollett's descriptions in his 1766 Travels through France and Italy.

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