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
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Recent Examples on the Web Others spoke tiredly of trying to defend Mr. Trump’s policies to friends and family only to be hamstrung, inevitably, by some presidential tweet about a potential purchase of Greenland or a diatribe about wind turbines. New York Times, "‘He Was Just Everywhere’: A Tired Country After Four Years of Trump," 19 Jan. 2021 My father is a passionate, diatribe-loving feminist, though his feminism often seems to exclude my mother. Karla Cornejo Villavicencio, The New Yorker, "Waking Up from the American Dream," 18 Jan. 2021 On Wednesday, Trump used Twitter and Facebook to deliver a 46-minute diatribe of misstatements about the election to his collective following of 100 million users on the two platforms. Amanda Seitz, Anchorage Daily News, "Dangerously viral: How Trump, supporters spread false claims," 4 Dec. 2020 One such diatribe is her criticism of straight men in musical theater and how 80% of them are irredeemable humans. David Oliver, USA TODAY, "Rachel Bloom discusses new memoir, Adam Schlesinger's death: 'It still doesn't feel quite real'," 18 Nov. 2020 In early 2018, Fox News host Laura Ingraham delivered a diatribe against NBA star LeBron James over remarks to a TV interviewer that were critical of President Trump. Stephen Battaglio Staff Writer, Los Angeles Times, "How athletes have forced ESPN and other networks to change their game plan on mixing politics and sports," 3 Nov. 2020 There are also signs that some alliance members are not comfortable with Sharif’s anti-military diatribe. Washington Post, "Breaking an old taboo, Pakistan begins to reckon with its powerful military," 22 Oct. 2020 At one point during Q Con Live on Saturday, a pair of presenters went on a long diatribe against people who wear masks to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Donie O'sullivan Video By Gabe Ramirez, CNN, "Analysis: A CNN reporter went to two different QAnon events. Here's what he found," 19 Oct. 2020 Sasse's nine-minute diatribe against Trump was first reported by the Washington Examiner, which obtained an audio recording of the town hall. Marisa Schultz, Fox News, "Sen. Ben Sasse unloads on Trump in call with constituents: 'A TV-obsessed narcissistic individual'," 16 Oct. 2020

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

Time Traveler

The first known use of diatribe was in 1581

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Statistics for diatribe

Last Updated

2 Feb 2021

Cite this Entry

“Diatribe.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/diatribe. Accessed 8 Mar. 2021.

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English Language Learners Definition of diatribe

formal : an angry and usually long speech or piece of writing that strongly criticizes someone or something

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