I’ve hated the term wordsmith since I first saw it in a help-wanted ad in the New York Times, probably in the 1960’s. It wasn’t the reference to craft – I often analogize writing to carpentry. It was the flatness of the term. There’s no resonance.
They were defining us – the bosses and their HR lackeys. All of them with exquisitely shiny tin ears.
So I’ve decided to fight back. Fond as I am of writer, editor – speaker, even – these times call for stronger stuff. So, let’s send in the englottogastors. Let them cleanse us of the wordsmiths, and possibly also the content managers, the repurposers, the people who brought us the squiggly macron (which I believe once again is the tilde).
It’s quite a few years ago now that I first ran across the englottogastors in Aristophanes’ The Birds. The term made me laugh then, and it still does.
I remember mentioning it at the time to my daughter, Alicia. But I made a mistake. I thought they were eglottogastors. Alicia loved it. Later, I had doubts, went back and checked the text, and brought her the news. It didn’t go well. She preferred eglottogastors. Ten-year-olds can be like that. (Alicia says, “I still think eglottogastors sounds better.” Hey, I’m not arguing.)
Anyway, the englottogastors show up in line 1694 ff., where the chorus is saying mean things about people like Gorgias, who make their living by wagging their tongues, rather than working with their hands.
Gorgias was one of the first practitioners of something called rhetoric, the art of persuasion. I personally think that Aristophanes felt somewhat threatened by these rhetoric people. After all, they were muscling in on the territory of the playwrights, who’d had a pretty clear field up until then, when it came to the wordsmith thing.
Aristophanes clearly intended englottogastor as a term of opprobrium. But the odd thing, if you think about it, is that Aristophanes was himself an englottogastor. He filled his belly by wagging his tongue – or, more accurately, causing actors’ tongues to wag.
So I say, let’s adopt the term with pride. Fix bayonets and charge. The same thing the Obama people have done with Obamacare.
I think it can apply to anyone who makes a living working with words – writers, lawyers, politicians – actors, certainly.
Let us rejoice in this ridiculous appellation. I think I may even get some new business cards printed.