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
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Recent Examples on the Web

Trump’s diatribes have offered an unmistakably racist backdrop to these measures. Michael Luo, The New Yorker, "America’s Exclusionary Past and Present and the Judgment of History," 17 Aug. 2019 The president’s diatribes about Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Mr. Rosenstein and the existence of the special counsel have, for most of the White House aides, become a dependable part of the fabric of life working for this president. Maggie Haberman And Michael S. Schmidt, New York Times, "Trump Sought to Fire Mueller in December," 10 Apr. 2018 The foreign ministry, meanwhile, has been firing off angry dispatches, keeping the messaging centralized and more official than the routine diatribes in state-media commentaries. Timothy W. Martin, WSJ, "North Korea Fires Insults at U.S., Spares Trump," 15 June 2019 Try to imagine LeBron James’s or Gregg Popovich’s political diatribes at the Garden. Harvey Araton, New York Times, "These Knicks Do Not Belong in Today’s N.B.A.," 1 July 2019 His diatribe was targeted at Muslim members in the Indian parliament who swore allegiance to the Indian constitution but refused to recite the chant, which has recently been appropriated by the Hindu right wing. Rana Ayyub, Time, "What a Rising Tide of Violence Against Muslims in India Says About Modi's Second Term," 28 June 2019 Historians say Douglass' pre-Emancipation diatribe — more than 9,800 words in length — is a masterpiece of persuasion. Dallas News, "Frederick Douglass speech raises question: Should African-Americans celebrate the Fourth of July?," 2 July 2019 The answer is the latter, in case there was any doubt — but Eddo-Lodge’s diatribe certainly wouldn’t give you that impression. Sahil Handa, National Review, "Why I’m No Longer Talking to Anyone about Anything," 13 June 2019 The two leaders worked to ease tensions after the diatribe, which threatened to divert attention away from the WWI commemoration. Caitlin O'kane, CBS News, ""Friendship tree" planted by Presidents Trump and Macron has died," 10 June 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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Dictionary Entries near diatribe

diatoric

Diatraea

diatreme

diatribe

diatropic

diatropism

Diatryma

Statistics for diatribe

Last Updated

14 Sep 2019

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Time Traveler for diatribe

The first known use of diatribe was in 1581

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More Definitions for diatribe

diatribe

noun

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

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with diatribe

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for diatribe

Spanish Central: Translation of diatribe

Nglish: Translation of diatribe for Spanish Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about diatribe

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