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, 1995I 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 Loathing, 1993 … 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
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.