Word: vitriolic

Pronunciation: vi-tree-AH-lik

Part of Speech: adjective

Definition: filled with bitter criticism or malice

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


There are many words out there to define the bitter, the critical, and the downright mean. As a writer, you may often find yourself in need of a variety of these words to keep your descriptions of villains and conflicts fresh and vivid. Today’s vocabulary post features one such word that I feel adds a poetic touch to otherwise coarse writing. Why call certain acts “sour” or “cruel” when you can call them “vitriolic”?

To be “vitriolic” is to be filled with bitter malice or criticism. The word is the adjective form of the noun “vitriol“, meaning “cruel and bitter criticism”. This noun arose in late Middle English as a reference to the sulfate of various metals and comes from the Latin noun vitriolum “sulphuric acid”, which in turn stems from the Latin noun vitrum “glass”.

As noted above, “vitriolic” derives from a word that was once a chemistry term for “sulfuric acid” but has since become dated in this sense. Today, the noun “vitriol” mostly refers to abusive language, so by extension, the adjective “vitriolic” also refers primarily to caustic and malicious speech. However, I’ve also seen it used to describe violent actions, so I assume it’s up to a writer’s discretion how best to use it. If your characters often engage in harsh and spiteful speech or actions, “vitriolic” may be a good word to add to your vocabulary!

What are your thoughts on this word? Any suggestions for future “Word of the Week” featured words?

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