Palin and Lalia
Theological Terms I
Theological Terms II
Theol. Terms III
Noso and Noce/Nocu
Milton, Book I (PL)
Oo and Ovi
Labors of Hercules I
Oblectation et al.
Dissimulare et al.
Acroama et al.
Tetrous et al.
Commeate et al.
Obsolete et al.
Subtle et al. I
Hesitate et al. (Ovid)
Excoriate et al. I
Excoriate et al. II
Greek/Latin Roots of Theol. Terms II
Bill Long 5/5/07
The words I would like to explain in this essay are (1) theologaster; (2) apocrypha(l); and (3) mortiferous.
The word theologaster opens up the wonderful world of sophisticated insults, for a theologaster is "a shallow or paltry theologian; a smatterer or pretender in theology." The "aster" ending can be appended, like the tail to the donkey, to almost any word, with the result being a term of ridicule or abuse of that profession. For example, a criticaster is an inferior critic (I bet this word is always on the lips of playwrights..); a grammaticaster is a petty grammarian; a poetaster is a poet who just doesn't seem to have much poetical skill; a politicaster is a petty politican (is there another kind?); a philologaster is an incompetent philologist; a philosophaster (also the name of a 1605 book) is a pretender to philosophical knowledge; a medicaster is a quack physician. Then you can vary some of the words to come up with even cuter ways of ridiculing people. Not only is an inferior poet a poetaster, but s/he can also be called a poeticule. Or, a person of inferior wit (there are lots of them on TV), is not only a witticaster, but a witling. Here is a web site that gives a few quotations.
The appearance of this many "aster" words ought to stimulate our creative juices, for there are many, many more people and professions that are worthy of ridicule, don't you think? I wonder why there isn't a term to ridicule an incompetent lawyer, since the world is full of them. Maybe legalaster or just plain legal ass? Well, you get the point. Which profession would you like to hold up to ridicule or become the object of invective? By the way, that last sentence shows me the need to have a verb to invect to mean to indict with ridicule or censure. We have inveigh, which may give us what we want, but we have to use "inveigh against." Why not just have "invect" meaning, literally, to "carry in" or "carry at" so that the following sentence would make sense: "which profession would you like to hold up to ridicule or invect?" There is one OED attestation of the verb invectivate to mean "to utter invectives," but I don't think it will have much life in the 21st century.
Apocrypha and Apocryphal
I am having so much fun imagining people to invect that I almost forgot that I was expositing theological terms. The word apocrypha goes back in English to the 14th century and means "of doubtful authenticity." It is derived from the Greek word apocryphos, which means "hidden" or of unknown authorship. The word apocrypha is really a plural usage, with the singular being apocryphon. One of the Gnostic texts from the 4th century CE Nag Hammadi scrolls is called the Apocryphon of John. While we are on the word apocrypha, however, I need to say one word on a neighboring word--apocalypse. The two aren't related in the least; the latter has to do with "taking the cover off" (literally) or "revealing", and so it refers to a genre of Jewish and early Christian literature which flourished for two centuries before and after Jesus' life and which emphasized visions, confusing number theology and dreams of the end of the world and things to come. The Biblical Revelation to John is a good example of apocalyptic literature.
Back to apocrypha/Apocrypha. When the Protestants came on the scene in the 1520s, one of their first tasks was to issue a Bible that was a translation of the original Hebrew and Greek manuscripts, one that would go beyond the rather primitive Latin version of Jerome (the Vulgate). Luther put out a Bible; the textual critic Erasmus (though a Catholic) put together a superior version of the Greek New Testament from the ancient manuscripts. But the Protestants would ultimately have a different Bible than the Catholics; they would eliminate a host of books from the "intertestamental" time whose authority as Scripture wasn't attested in the early Church. These books (about 15 of them) were called the Apocrypha. The first attestation in English of apocrypha used in this specified sense was in 1539: "The other [bookes] folowynge, which are called apocripha..."
Protestants have, since that time, had an uneasy relationship to the Apocrypha. Episcopalians have accepted the text for homiletical and spiritual guidance, but have been reluctant to draw doctrine from the texts. Other Protestants ignored these books. A major development in Protestant Bible publishing occurred a few years ago when Renovare, an Evangelical Protestant spiritual renewal movement, put out a "Renovare" Spiritual Formation Study Bible. They used the text of the NRSV, a contemporary English translation, but decided to include the entire Apocrypha in their study bible. Indeed, each of the books of the Apocrypha was commented on just as if was a "Biblical" book. I know, because I was the scholar who was asked to write notes on several of the Apocryphal books. The Renovare Bible listed these books as "deuterocanonical"--which suggests a sort of "secondary canon," though its relationship to the "first canon" is left unclear.
The term apocryphal is used all the time these days in "academic speak" to mean a story that isn't adequately attested or possibly false. "The tale has a somewhat apocryphal sound." Or, "the story I am about to tell is likely apocryphal, but since it is such a good story, here goes!"
This word, literally meaning "bringing death," has appeared occasionally in the Kids National Spelling Bee, and so a comment on it is not inappropriate. It means "bringing or causing death" or "deadly." Its first attestation, however, was in the sense of causing spiritual death, though it has since the 16th century been broadened to include anything causing any kind of death. An example of the earlier usage is from Erasmus (1533): "Howe late they waxed wyse, howe late they beganne to hate their mortyferous and deedly pleasures." The term then was taken over by a host of lugubrious theologians, such as one from the 19th century: "Whenever you sin, do not wait in mortiferous security until your wounds putrefy." You sometimes wonder how anyone would have willingly sat under the tutelage of such words, but I have lived long enough to see people tolerate almost any belief that is cloaked in sincerity or an appeal to the divine.
The more common meaning of mortiferous in our day is bringing or causing physical death. This meaning was understood and used even several hundred years ago, and even by theologians, as when the great Puritan divine Cotton Mather could say in his Magnalia Christi Americana (1702): "Many of them..were a fair Mark for the Mortiferous Bullets." From the last few decades we have: "Having never previously noted dart-wounds to be mortiferous in Helminthoglypta..." and, from 1996: "Plague continued to be massively mortiferous: in 1720-21,...Marseilles lost about half its population of ninety thousand."
Let's finish these terms with one more essay.
Copyright © 2004-2009 William R. Long