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

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
Recent Examples on the Web For a while, the women seemed chastened by Yura’s diatribe, or, anyway, uninterested in provoking him. Luke Mogelson, The New Yorker, 23 July 2022 On April 5, Snyder delivered a 19-minute diatribe to the press before a game, defending his team with both passion and some statistics that later turned out to be inaccurate. Eric Walden, The Salt Lake Tribune, 10 June 2022 Overwhelmingly, these discussions describe the diatribe as relying on pseudoscience or discredited science and co-opting or misreading mainstream science. Emily Klancher Merchant, STAT, 23 June 2022 Kid Rock is standing by his drunken 2019 diatribe against Oprah on Tuesday (June 7) in a new interview with Tucker Carlson. Glenn Rowley, Billboard, 7 June 2022 Nor is this story a diatribe about privileged parenting in America. Elizabeth Macbride, Forbes, 4 June 2022 Authorities believe the Buffalo shooting suspect published a 180-page diatribe before the massacre, detailing his plans to kill Black people and describing himself as a white supremacist and a terrorist. Emily Guskin, Washington Post, 21 May 2022 And like in El Paso, the racist suspect left behind a long diatribe explaining that his actions were rooted in the belief that nonwhite people are taking over the country. Fidel Martinez, Los Angeles Times, 18 May 2022 In a 180-page diatribe, the 18-year-old White suspect allegedly details how he had been radicalized and describes the attack as terrorism and himself as a White supremacist. Adrienne Vogt, CNN, 17 May 2022 See More

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.

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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The first known use of diatribe was in 1581

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Last Updated

1 Aug 2022

Cite this Entry

“Diatribe.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/diatribe. Accessed 12 Aug. 2022.

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More from Merriam-Webster on diatribe

Nglish: Translation of diatribe for Spanish Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about diatribe


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