Mom and Momus
I really don't want to write much about mom. Everyone knows what a mom is. Most people even have or had one. Almost everyone knows that the "us" ending in a Latin word is the masculine ending, but you would be mistaken if you think that "Momus" is just a masculine mom. He is far more interesting even that that improbable thought.
Momus Has a Story Too
Momus was originally a divinity, the Greek god of ridicule, and to be a "momus" now means to be someone who is a fault-finder or a captious critic. Here is the story, taken primarily from the 2nd Century satirist Lucian, though elements also come from other places.
Way back long time ago, when the Gods were enjoying themselves in heaven, they had a quarrel over who created the most perfect object. Hephaestus (some say Zeus) created a man, Athena a house and Poseidon an ox. Not being able to decide on their own which object was most perfect, they grabbed Momus to be the judge. The one task you do not want if you are a divinity or a human in Ancient Greece is to be a judge of which God's work is better than the others. Gods have long memories, and do not respect you even if you are wearing a robe and powdered wig when you make the decision.
So Momus decided that all of the works lacked perfection. He said that the house should have been built on wheels so that you could wheel it away from your neighbor when the quarrels begin. He found fault with Poseidon's ox because of the placement of the horns. Everyone knows that it would have been better to put the horns below the eyes so that the ox could see what it is goring and not have to lower its eyes. Finally, the human was not perfect. It should have been created either with its heart outside the body or with a transparent chest cavity so that the heart could be seen by all and that no deception could be practiced among humans.
The Gods, not unexpectedly, threw him out of heaven, but he bequeathed his name to the world of fault-finding critics.
Building on Momus
So, we have the word "momus" in English to mean a carping critic. But, that isn't very useful. Calling someone a "momus" is like calling someone a dork. Not too creative. Unless, come to think of it, you might call someone a "pompous momus" because they seem to take great pride in their ability to trash anything that anyone else ever does. I rather like that one, actually.
Can we make it into a verb or an adjective that might be useful? I also like the word momilian (which I just made up), and can imagine a ton of settings where I could dismiss someone as just being a "momilian naysayer" or something like that. The OED actually has a few occurrences of the word momist to mean a faultfinder. Hm. Maybe Momus and mom are not unrelated after all. Indeed the OED has separate entries for "momism" and "momism." Yep, your eyes just read the same word twice.
1. momism--"resembling a mome or fool." Ah, this gets far too complicated, now, because a mome is either an Anglicized form of "momus," meaning a carping critic or is "of obscure origin" meaning a blockhead or fool. Let's just agree for now that this form of momism is derived from Momus and means resembling a carping critic.
2. momism--"excessive attachment to, or domination by, the mother." Yikes, what would Freud say about all of this?
I think, however, that the most useful way to bring the word back today is as a verb. If someone "momuses" someone they trash them, they criticize them unmercifully. If you can "diss" someone, you can certainly "momus" them. Maybe diss and momus can become related and then we don't have to worry as much whether momum and mom are connected.
But, be sure of one thing. Don't ever confuse Momus, or mom, with momiology. Momiology is the study of mummies, a perfectly deadly subject.
Copyright © 2004-2010 William R. Long