In this pre-election season, why not take a look at words that may (or may not) apply to political speech?
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.
I write for teens, narrate audio books, bake bread, play music, and ponder the wonder of words in a foggy little town on California's central coast.
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