Thursday, September 3, 2015

More talk

More talk

Last week we considered the word histories of blab, chatter, prattle, spiel & screed. This week, we’ll take a look at a few more words that have to do with talking.

Harangue, now meaning a pompous speech or tirade, came to English in the 1400s through Scottish from Middle French. The Middle French word, harangue, meant a public address, which came from the Old Italian word aringo, a public square or pulpit. Aringo came from the Old High German word hring, which simply meant circle. This probably referred to people gathering in a circle to hear someone talk or its source may be the Old High German word harihring, or army-ring. In either case, it seems harangue’s origin has more to do with the audience’s configuration than the speaker’s vitriol. Interestingly, this same root gave us ring, rank, range & arrange.

In the 1640s the word diatribe came to English from Latin through French. The Latin word meant learned discussion, & the Greek source of the Latin word meant employment or study. This Greek word was constructed of dia- meaning away, & tribien, meaning  to wear or rub. So, even back at its very source, a diatribe was simply a wearing away, or loss of the listener’s time.

In the 1300s the word oration appeared in English meaning speech or prayer. It comes from the Latin word orare, meaning to pray, plead, or speak before an assembly. It wasn’t until the 1500s that oration collected its modern meaning, a formal speech

The word lecture showed up in the 1300s meaning that which is read. It comes from the Medeival Latin word lectura, a reading. Going back further, lectura comes from a verb meaning to collect or gather, a word whose literal translation was firewood. Could this root account for the fact that many lectures are perceived as nothing more than blowing smoke?

Good readers, please leave any thoughts about lectures, diatribes, harangues or orations in the comments section.

Big thanks to this week’s sources: Wordnik, Etymonline, Merriam Webster, & the OED.


  1. I love the word harangue. And oh, my what a convoluted path it took to English--from German by way of Italy and France and then Scotland! A well-travelled noun! Thanks again for all the enlightening wordmongering!

  2. Dearest MIss Allen,
    I'm with you on the love of the word harangue, especially given its historical focus on the audience. How many times I have I heard something that became something else due to my mental state? Intriguing stuff, this etymology.

  3. I've always like the word (if not actually listening to) diatribe. I love the reference to wearing away the listeners time. And, yes, such a convoluted path harangue took. Fascinating!

  4. Hi Christine,
    May you suffer no diatribes or harangues.