(n.) an unfair or unnecessarily harsh critic
You might have spotted this tweet over on the HH Twitter feed the other day:
Which, as our friends at UWG English pointed out, is probably not the most appropriate word for that kind of person…
But what about all the other characters that we know and love, and love to hate? What other words are hiding out in the dictionary to describe them?
Well, from unknowledgeable critics to penniless friends, this week’s HH YouTube instalment is looking at ten words for precisely those kinds of people:
One word that didn’t make the final cut here, however, was zoilist:
Just as (SPOILER ALERT if you haven’t watched the video yet...) the ultracrepidarians of this world take their name from a story from Ancient Greece, the carping zoilists have their roots in a fourth-century BC Greek grammarian and literary critic named Zoilus of Amphipolis.
Born in what is now Macedonia c. 400 BC, Zoilus was one of the most scathing critics of the Greek poet Homer. Despite being the author of both the Iliad and Odyssey, as well as one of the most well respected writers of Ancient Greece, writing two cornerstones of Western literature was not enough, it seems, to impress Zoilus.
In a long-lost essay called Homeric Questions, Zoilus challenged Homer’s portrayal of the gods, and called out a number of plot holes and inconsistencies in his works: in the Iliad, for instance, Menelaus dies in battle only to be seemingly revived to witness the death of his son several pages later. Other writers might have fallen victim to Zoilus’ criticizing glare of the years, but it was for these criticisms of Homer’s writing that Zoilus was best known—and for which he deservedly the nickname Homeromastix, or the “Scourge of Homer”, among his contemporaries.
Zoilus’s writings have not survived, and as a result it’s unclear just how harsh his criticism really was. But the enduring popularity of Homer’s works has nevertheless led to history being somewhat less kind to his harshest critic.
Various historical accounts record that Zoilus died having been thrown from a cliff by an angry mob, stoned to death on the island of Chios, or else tossed alive on top of a funeral pyre in Smyrna. Whether any of these gruesome demises ever truly occurred is questionable, but instead it’s likely that they are all just myths and smears rooted in little more than the unpopularity of Zoilus’s opinions—yet it’s precisely those opinions that led to Zoilus the zoilist earning himself a permanent place in the language.