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 Tillerson in particular was stunned by Trump's diatribe and began visibly seething. Carol D. Leonnig, Philip Rucker, Anchorage Daily News, "‘You’re a bunch of dopes and babies’: Inside Trump’s stunning tirade against generals," 17 Jan. 2020 Trump reflected briefly on the Earth's size this weekend, during a diatribe against windmills in West Palm Beach. Stephen Collinson, CNN, "Why voting Trump delivers a divine payoff for some," 24 Dec. 2019 This extended diatribe is not intended to be a knock on Andy Dalton. Jason Buelterman, Cincinnati.com, "Guest TML: The Cincinnati Bengals have given us fans Bengalitis, so we prep for the worst," 20 Dec. 2019 As for the governor, he was spotted wearing his own Nike sneakers at a Fourth of July barbecue two days after his Twitter diatribe. Maria Polletta, azcentral, "Sex scandals, wedding invitations, faulty prison locks. These are the 19 top Arizona stories of 2019," 22 Dec. 2019 Kylo Ren takes off that ridiculous mask after a brutal diatribe from Lord Snoke (Andy Serkis) about the cosmic potential of his bloodline. Darren Franich, EW.com, "Star Wars rewatch: The Last Jedi destroys a legend to rebuild the same legend," 16 Dec. 2019 The childish and tiresome President Trump-bashing diatribe from the letter writers seems to be de rigueur in The Denver Post. Dp Opinion, The Denver Post, "Letters: Pay for C-470 project at pumps; Missing the point on emissions standards; Consider the context; The choice is clear: Safety measures should be mandatory (9/27/19)," 27 Sep. 2019 The El Paso shooting could be prosecuted as a hate crime after investigators discovered an anti-immigrant diatribe possibly connected to the suspect. Louie Villalobos, USA TODAY, "'He's a racist': Beto O'Rourke says President Trump is partly to blame for El Paso mass shooting," 4 Aug. 2019 The diatribe comes more than a year after Schnatter resigned as chairman of the company after using the N-word during a conference call on diversity training in May of 2018. Kate Gibson, CBS News, "Papa John's pizza leaves bad taste in Papa John's mouth," 26 Nov. 2019

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

16 Feb 2020

Cite this Entry

“Diatribe.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/diatribe. Accessed 24 Feb. 2020.

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More Definitions for diatribe


How to pronounce diatribe (audio)

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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More from Merriam-Webster on diatribe

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for diatribe

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with diatribe

Spanish Central: Translation of diatribe

Nglish: Translation of diatribe for Spanish Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about diatribe

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