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 On May 26, 2017, Christian unleashed a racist diatribe against two Black teenage girls who were riding a Green Line train. oregonlive, 27 May 2021 Uber has banned a passenger after a racist diatribe against a driver was reported at L.A. International Airport. Los Angeles Times, 15 Mar. 2021 The Smiths, who took to Facebook early Monday to write a searing diatribe about Fox's The Simpsons. Peter Suciu, Forbes, 19 Apr. 2021 This elegant diatribe of a movie, based on a text by Russian theologian and poet Vladimir Solovyov, occurs within an intellectual bubble: an opulent and fully staffed manor house in the middle of a snowy Transylvanian landscape. Carlos Aguilar, Los Angeles Times, 8 Apr. 2021 When Jack launches into his racist diatribe, everyone in the room laughs along, Irene laughing harder than anyone. New York Times, 23 Feb. 2021 Lester’s book is nowhere close to being a diatribe of the racing system against the Black driver. Ray Glier, Forbes, 19 Mar. 2021 But this time, Connolly also directed the diatribe at his colleagues. Washington Post, 25 Feb. 2021 Skip the diatribe and focus your note on encouragement and well wishes instead. Betsy Cribb, Southern Living, 11 Mar. 2021

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

2 Jun 2021

Cite this Entry

“Diatribe.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/diatribe. Accessed 14 Jun. 2021.

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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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