Word: poetaster

Pronunciation: POH-ət-as-tər

Part of Speech: noun

Definition: a person who writes inferior poetry

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


Bet you can’t guess where I learned this week’s vocabulary word. To save you the trouble, I’ll tell you that I came across it while looking up VOCALOID music on YouTube, when I found a metal song titled “Poetaster and Singing Dolls“. Despite being terribly distracted by the artwork featuring Gakupo and Kaito in gothic attire (permission to fangirl, please?), I still managed to pay enough attention to the title to wonder what the word “poetaster” meant. I was intrigued from the moment I first read it, and after I looked it up, I quickly fell in love with it. Not that I wanted to be one myself, of course; after all, when it comes to my poetry, I always strive to write the best I possibly can.

A “poetaster” is an unskilled poet, that is, someone who writes poetry of inferior quality. The word was coined in the late 16th century by the Dutch Renaissance humanist Erasmus as a derogatory term for individuals who are implied to be pretentious about artistic value. This word is originally Latin and is comprised of the noun poeta “poet” and the suffix -aster, which is used to express incomplete resemblance to something in a negative way.

Though I loved the word “poetaster” as soon as I learned its definition, I confess it’s something that I’ve sometimes feared I might be. Every writer doubts the quality of their work from time to time, and though I prefer writing short stories and flash fiction, I don’t take any less care when writing poetry. In all fairness, the term “poetaster” seems to apply to unskilled poets who think they’re tremendously talented, so I suppose any writer is safe from this insult as long as they remain humble about their work. A couple of synonyms for “poetaster” are “rhymester” and “versifier”, though these tend to be ambiguous while the former is always negative. If you’ve written a character who’s pretentious about poetry, you may have a “poetaster” lurking in your stories. Just take care not to be one yourself!

What are your thoughts on this word? Any suggestions for future “Word of the Week” featured words?

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