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 At least we are left with a series of comic diatribes, each of which could stand on its own as a stinging monologue. New York Times, "Review: ‘Happy Birthday Doug.’ Here’s a Vodka Stinger.," 16 Feb. 2020 But the most frightening part of his diatribe Wednesday on the House floor was his odd, rambling defense of the legislature’s indefensible decision to remain in session. Joseph Gerth, The Courier-Journal, "Gerth: Whatever you do, don't take coronavirus advice from Jim Gooch," 19 Mar. 2020 His 6-minute diatribe included called for Muslims, Christians and Jews to die. The Oregonian/oregonlive.com, oregonlive, "Watch Live: The Jeremy Christian trial verdict," 21 Feb. 2020 The insults have included racist and sexist diatribes, including against former U.S. President Barack Obama and former South Korean President Park Geun-hye, the country’s first female leader. Washington Post, "N Korea calls Abe an ‘idiot’ over criticism of weapons test," 7 Nov. 2019 Sure, he's rubbed some people the wrong way with his passionate Christian faith and diatribes against paying players (while making $9.3 million a year, more than any other coach), but there's little doubt about his sincerity. Creg Stephenson | Cstephenson@al.com, al, "LSU vs. Clemson National Championship Game (1/13) 2020 live stream; time, TV channel, odds," 13 Jan. 2020 In 2011, Penn State Alzheimer’s researcher Daniel R. George and Case Western University neurologist Peter J. Whitehouse co-authored a veritable diatribe against brain improvement products. Kaitlyn Tiffany, Vox, "The all-too-understandable urge to buy a better brain," 8 July 2019 The suspect in the El Paso attack — identified by police as a 21-year-old white man from the Dallas area — posted a diatribe against immigrants in Texas, a senior law enforcement official told NBC News. Adam Edelman, NBC News, "Trump slams El Paso native O'Rourke ahead of visit to grieving city," 7 Aug. 2019 But Sinhalese groups with which he is closely aligned kept up a steady anti-Muslim diatribe, especially after suicide-bombings at several churches and hotels at Easter killed more than 250 people. The Economist, "Sri Lanka’s new president has a worrying past," 21 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

24 May 2020

Cite this Entry

“Diatribe.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/diatribe. Accessed 5 Jun. 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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