po·​lem·​ic pə-ˈle-mik How to pronounce polemic (audio)
: an aggressive attack on or refutation of the opinions or principles of another
: the art or practice of disputation or controversy
usually used in plural but singular or plural in construction
: an aggressive controversialist : disputant
polemicist noun

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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 Rather than resort to angry polemics or pronouncements about morality, however, these country – and, more broadly, Americana – songs create intimate portraits of the women and men engaged in the painful realities of daily life. William Nash, The Conversation, 29 Aug. 2023 In this, the book is a significant improvement over more partisan versions of this story—like, for example, Peter Schweizer’s 2002 polemic, Reagan’s War. Sean T. Byrnes, The New Republic, 6 July 2023 In the New York Times, Senators Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) and Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) published a polemic against technology firms. Jonathan Nicastro, National Review, 1 Aug. 2023 The Italian Parliament and news media are filled with polemics about how to stop, or welcome, the tens of thousands of migrants expected to arrive in coming months and about what needs to be done to prevent another calamity at sea. Gaia Pianigiani, New York Times, 16 Mar. 2023 Feminists of the seventies understood the political utility of a polemic. Lauren Michele Jackson, The New Yorker, 14 July 2023 In this scathing polemic, Blanc traces the origins of the international conservation movement to the colonial era and argues that conservation organizations have exhibited a complete disregard for the welfare of people in Africa. Helen Morrison, Foreign Affairs, 28 Feb. 2023 Lauck admires the idealism of the early Midwesterners, but polemic is one of the commonest modes that idealism speaks in. Phil Christman, The New Republic, 22 Feb. 2023 The Vatican urged bishops and high-profile lay Catholic leaders on Monday to tone down their comments on social media, saying some were causing division and stoking polemics that harmed the entire Church. Reuters, NBC News, 29 May 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'polemic.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


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

First Known Use

1626, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

Time Traveler
The first known use of polemic was in 1626


Dictionary Entries Near polemic

Cite this Entry

“Polemic.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/polemic. Accessed 4 Oct. 2023.

Kids Definition


po·​lem·​ic pə-ˈlem-ik How to pronounce polemic (audio)
: an aggressive attack on the opinions or beliefs of another
also polemic
Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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