A weird mix of Greek and Latin, it means compulsion to write. ‘Cacoethes’ is a Latinization of the Greek kakoethes, which combines kakos (‘bad’) with ethos (‘habit’). It can mean ‘urge,’ ‘itch,’ ‘compulsion,’ ‘mania.’ Similar constructions: cacoethes loquendi, compulsive talking, and cacoethes carpendi, a mania for fault-finding. You can see ‘carp’ lurking within the infinitive, carpere, to pluck (Cf. Eugene Ehrlich, Amo, Amas, Amat and More, Harper & Row, 1985, pp. 71-72.) To this list I add cacoethes blogendi, compulsion to blog, a compulsion with which I am becoming increasingly afflicted.
Aficionados of Jack Kerouac’s not-so-spontaneous spontaneous prose will recall how he got his revenge on poet and critic Kenneth Rexroth in his Dharma Bums: he bestowed upon him the name, Reinhold Cacoethes. Sweet gone Jack was a wonderful coiner of names. I’ll have to return to this topic.
As for my own cacoethes scribendi et blogendi: once a scribbler, always a scribbler. My fifth grade teacher had us begin each day by writing a 200 word composition. At the end of the year, she announced in class that my compositions were the best she had ever seen in her teaching career. I decided right then and there to become a free-lance writer, which in a sense is what I have become. Moral: be careful what you wish for.