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30 May 2011

Monday's Word - Criticaster

As authors, we all look froward to our first review of a new book with a mixture of anticipation and dread.  We all hope we'll have a positive review, one that the reviewer likes, if not 'loves', although that is always a thrill.  If it's a 'professional' review, even if the reviewer finds our book not to their taste, hopefully they'll find something nice to say about it, so as not to make us feel completely useless and untallented, but more importantly that they'll explain why they didn't like it, and how they feel it can be improved.  All right, it hurts to be told your 'baby' is not perfect, but after a few days, if we go back and reread the review, if the reviewer has done her job properly, we'll know what might not work for some readers, and how to improve next time.

What about the 'casual' reviewer though?  Many of us have come across the person on a site such as Amazon or even, sometimes, commenting on  a blog, who feels they need to tell the world how bad your book is, and how much they hated it.  I've had one myself.  These so called 'reviews'  sting but the only consolation is that often you'll find the same 'reviewer' casting aspersions at several other books, and usually with spelling and grammar that leave something to be desired Some people seem to get a 'kick' out of criticising other people's work, without seeming to realise that there is a world of difference between 'constructive criticism' which can be very helpful to a writer, and plain ol'  'criticism' for the sake of it'.  Michael Quinion in his 'World Wide Words' has found the perfect word for this person -'Criticaster'.  This is what he says:
"It's not much met with now, more's the pity. This is one of its rare modern 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 butwhose 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 fromLatin, where it meant an incomplete resemblance. English adapted it to refer to a person of inferior or inadequate qualities."

So take heart if you are the victim of one of these 'Criticasters'.  For every one of them who hates your book there will be many genuine readers, as well as professional reviewers who love it.  As the old saying goes 'can't win 'em all'! 

*World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion 2011. All rights reserved The  original post can be found at:  http://www.worldwidewords.org