diatribe

noun
di·​a·​tribe | \ ˈdī-ə-ˌtrīb How to pronounce diatribe (audio) \

Definition of diatribe

1 : a bitter and abusive speech or piece of writing
2 : ironic or satirical criticism
3 archaic : a prolonged discourse

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History of Diatribe

In modern times, a diatribe is not something most of us want to endure:

Our manager privately subjected a few of us to a lengthy diatribe about how terrible the company's new policy is.

I'd prefer a reasoned argument to the diatribes that typically litter the newspaper's editorial page.

That wasn't true in the word's early days, though.

When English speakers adopted diatribe in the late 16th century, they were glancing back at the ancients. The word comes from Greek diatribē, meaning "pastime" or "discourse," by way of Latin diatriba. The English word first referred to the popular lectures of ancient Greek and Roman philosophers, the usual topic of which was ethics.

When the word diatribe referred to written work in this context, that work was understood to be either a transcription of such a lecture, or a written development of one. According to some, these oral and written diatribes were the model on which modern sermons were built.

Over time, this very specific meaning of diatribe developed a more general meaning that didn't require the ancients themselves: any prolonged discourse—written or oral—could be considered a diatribe. That sense of the word, however, is now archaic; you don't typically find it in modern contexts.

When diatribe is used today, the connotation is quite different. The word most often refers to a bitter or abusive speech or piece of writing, as in the examples given above.

Examples of diatribe in a Sentence

… his apparent inability to keep his pen from drifting from the main objective of his words into diatribe must have taken away from the sound and otherwise convincing arguments that he advanced. — Henry Petroski, Engineers of Dreams, 1995 I looked … and listened to her ahistorical and apolitical diatribe. Her comments were a more extreme form of the kind of Black bashing I've often heard … — Itabari Njeri, "Sushi and Grits," in Lure and Loathing1993 … gradually I realize the headman's diatribe has begun to feature a new term I was unfamiliar with at the time—the word for caterpillar, as it turns out, in the Iban dialect. — T. Coraghessan Boyle, Harper's, April 1993 The article is a diatribe against mainstream media. a bitter diatribe about how unfair the tax system is
Recent Examples on the Web When the host tried to get Scott to walk back some of his comments, Scott paid no attention and kept on with his diatribe. Scooby Axson, USA TODAY, 29 Apr. 2022 British rapper Little Simz furiously delivers a diatribe built to combat ages of oppression and frustration. Harper's BAZAAR, 17 Mar. 2022 Robin’s diatribe is intercut with flashbacks to 1832 Ohio, with a mob dragging Joseph Smith out of his house. Scott D. Pierce, The Salt Lake Tribune, 28 Apr. 2022 At that stage of our relationship, Christine had not learned that asking me a question about gun stuff brought forth an uncharacteristic diatribe. Steve Meyer, Anchorage Daily News, 3 Apr. 2022 His diatribe left the clear impression that Trump, who rode the politics of white grievance into the White House, thinks he can’t possibly be treated fairly by Black officials. Bobby Caina Calvan, Anchorage Daily News, 6 Feb. 2022 At the Munich Conference in 2015, Sergey V. Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, launched into an extraordinary diatribe against the West. New York Times, 20 Feb. 2022 One day after the fifth journalist was killed in Mexico in six weeks, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador launched into another diatribe against the press. Washington Post, 11 Feb. 2022 Right at the outset of global shutdowns thanks to the virus, Rainbow was ready to go with a hilarious diatribe against Trump, who at the time was severely downplaying the severity of the situation. Stephen Daw, Billboard, 10 Feb. 2022 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'diatribe.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of diatribe

1581, in the meaning defined at sense 3

History and Etymology for diatribe

Latin diatriba, from Greek diatribē pastime, discourse, from diatribein to spend (time), wear away, from dia- + tribein to rub — more at throw entry 1

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Time Traveler for diatribe

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The first known use of diatribe was in 1581

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Dictionary Entries Near diatribe

diatreme

diatribe

diatropic

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Last Updated

21 May 2022

Cite this Entry

“Diatribe.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/diatribe. Accessed 21 May. 2022.

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Nglish: Translation of diatribe for Spanish Speakers

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