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The diatribe is related to the basic tradition of debate, where the assumption is that a higher truth can be reached through a process of argumentation between disagreeing parties. The diatribe is thus closely related to the polemic. The term diatribe, however, connotes a strong current of emotion underlying the verbal attack. This is because either the person takes the issue at hand personally, or because he is actively seeking to make use of appeal to emotion.

Diatribe meaning

A diatribe is used in both writing and discourse; it is an angry and generally lengthy speech or piece of writing used to strongly and forcefully criticize someone or something. It has also been defined as a prolonged discourse in the past; an abusive or bitter opinion piece; or satirical or ironic criticism. The word “diatribe” is derived from the Greek diatribe meaning pastime or discourse. Its literal meaning is “to wear away,” and its first known use was in 1581. Synonyms of diatribe are tirade, rant, and harangue. 


A diatribe is often used in the dialogue of a fiery protagonist or antagonist in literature to show passion for a certain topic. An excellent example of a diatribe is the revealing speech that villains often give their innocent captors just before they intend to kill them – which usually ends in the victim’s escape.

Example 1: A father lecturing his son about his wasted life.

Example 2: A person who eats meat speaking about the ridiculousness of being vegetarian.

Example 3: An intense political speech.

Example 4: An inspired sermon from the pulpit of a church.

Example 5: A loud and impassioned speech heard on the streets of a city.

In films and plays, diatribes are often in the form of monologues. The great ones stay with audiences years after the films are out of theaters.

For example, you could write or purchase an entire essay on the diatribes from  Dan O’Herlihy’s Halloween III: Season of the Witch diatribe about the origins of Halloween;  Samuel L. Jackson’s diatribe about survival in The Deep Blue Sea (Jackson is an extremely talented diatribist); John Travolta’s classic speech about hamburgers in the opening scene of Pulp Fiction; Mel Gibson’s speech in Braveheart; and the various speeches of the James Bond movie villains such as Hugo Drax and Alec Trevelyan.

A final, and most stirring example of a diatribe is Colonel Kurtz’ Apocalypse Now speech delivered by Marlon Brando in the dark, pithy version of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.

The use of diatribes 

Bion of Borysthenes was a freed slave, the son of a courtesan, and a Greek philosophical preacher and writer in or around 200 B.C. E. He is thought to have originated the word “diatribe” as a popular moral discourse that influenced today’s popular Christian sermons.

The word “diatribe” is often used by the victim of a verbal assault from another person to describe the style of speech employed. A diatribe is generally always negative in nature, but can be inspirational, as in the case of Kenneth Branagh’s character in Henry V. 

The word “diatribe” brings to mind street preachers or homeless mental patients roaming through alleys with bottles of vodka in tow. Persons in positions of authority are often the delivers of diatribes, for instance parents lecturing children, teachers lecturing students, or employers lecturing employees. The victims of these verbal assaults use the word “diatribe” to imply negative connotations to the word, as opposed to the positive connotations which might be assigned if they used a word such as “speech” or “talk.”

Diatribe also has another meaning in history – as a method or mode of teaching which was used in ancient philosophical schools to gain the attention of pupils. The diatribe was adopted by traveling philosophers and Cynics and Stoics, most likely resulting in the term “soapbox preacher.” In this case, a diatribe was a lecture or writing on popular philosophical or moral ideas, and often included self-sufficiency, self-control, and divine providence. Epictetus and Paul and James in the New Testament used diatribes consistently, and employed both features of dialogue and rhetoric. Features of dialogue used in diatribes are imaginary opponents, question and answer formats, false conclusions being rejects, and hypothetical objections being considered. Rhetorical features used in diatribes include amplification and personification (both parts of traditional Greco-Roman public speaking).

Ray Robinson wrote a book entitled Famous Last Words, Fond Farewells, Deathbedí Diatribes, and Exclamations upon Expirations in 2003, a collection of final or dying quotes from royalty, writers, philosophers, movie stars and politicians. It features this gem from Karl Marx: “Go on, get out. Last words are for fools who haven’t said enough.”

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