po·​lem·​ic | \pə-ˈle-mik \

Definition of polemic 

1a : an aggressive attack on or refutation of the opinions or principles of another

b : the art or practice of disputation or controversy usually used in plural but singular or plural in construction

2 : an aggressive controversialist : disputant

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Other Words from polemic

polemicist \ pə-​ˈle-​mə-​sist \ noun

Did You Know?

When polemic was borrowed into English from French polemique in the mid-17th century, it referred (as it still can) to a type of hostile attack on someone's ideas. The word traces back to Greek polemikos, which means "warlike" or "hostile" and in turn comes from the Greek noun polemos, meaning "war." Other, considerably less common descendants of polemos in English include polemarch ("a chieftain or military commander in ancient Greece"), polemoscope (a kind of binoculars with an oblique mirror), and polemology ("the study of war").

Examples of polemic in a Sentence

Her book is a fierce polemic against the inequalities in our society. They managed to discuss the issues without resorting to polemics.

Recent Examples on the Web

In book after book, the authors include pages-long polemics about the nationalization of the police system, Stockholm’s overdevelopment and the miseries of urban life, and the many demographics that had fallen through society’s cracks. Alice Bolin, Longreads, "The Daughter as Detective," 26 June 2018 Once a music journalist, Moran is a British writer of feminist polemic. Eve Barlow, GQ, "15 Hours With Hinds, Spain's Wildest Rock Band," 25 June 2018 At first glance, her new book, Natural Causes, is a polemic against wellness culture and the institutions that sustain it. Gabriel Winant, The New Republic, "Barbara Ehrenreich’s radical critique of wellness and self-improvement," 23 May 2018 Mining the historical relationship between King Edward II of England (1284-1327) and his courtier Piers Gaveston, the 90-minute opera doesn’t seize on the story for a polemic on behalf of gay love. New York Times, "Review: A Long-Awaited New Opera Is a Raucous Beauty," 11 May 2018 That bit of plotting might sound overly convenient, but Schrader, never pretending to be writing anything other than a polemic, gives it a terribly persuasive banality. Justin Chang, latimes.com, "The bracing 'First Reformed,' starring a superb Ethan Hawke, resurrects Paul Schrader's career," 17 May 2018 Besides, Bradbury’s Fahrenheit works better as a polemic than as a novel, with ideas stated clearly to the point of repetitiousness. Daniel D'addario, Time, "HBO’s Fahrenheit 451 Extinguishes What Made the Book Great," 14 May 2018 But why make these points in a novel and not, say, a tract, journalistic report, or polemic? Nathaniel Rich, The Atlantic, "The Novel That Asks, ‘What Went Wrong With Mankind?’," 11 May 2018 The play, like most of Ms. Thurber’s work, melds fiction and polemic with biography and autobiography. Alexis Soloski, New York Times, "From Three Troubled Lives, a Play and a New Family," 4 May 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'polemic.' 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 polemic

1626, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for polemic

French polémique, from Middle French, from polemique controversial, from Greek polemikos warlike, hostile, from polemos war; perhaps akin to Greek pelemizein to shake, Old English ealfelo baleful

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The first known use of polemic was in 1626

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More Definitions for polemic



English Language Learners Definition of polemic

: a strong written or spoken attack against someone else's opinions, beliefs, practices, etc.

polemics : the art or practice of using language to defend or harshly criticize something or someone

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What made you want to look up polemic? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


to clear from alleged fault or guilt

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