Friday, June 12, 2015


Although I hate being harangued--who doesn't?--I love the word itself. Nevertheless, I have no idea where the word comes from or really what it specifically means. I think of it as being a kind of extended nagging. It sounds to me like it comes from someplace exotic, but maybe it's from Spanish or French. Anyway, we're about to find out.

*** has a pretty nice definition of the word:

"A harangue is more than a speech, louder than a discussion, and nastier than a lecture. It is a verbal attack that doesn't let up, delivered as a verb or received as a noun. Either way it's pretty unpleasant."

There's a lengthy list of synonyms: :tirade, diatribe, lecture, polemic, rant, fulmination, broadside, attack, onslaught--all pretty great words in themselves. The emphasis seems to be on the length and aggression of the speech, and to some extent it's public nature. Also, perhaps, on its excessiveness and unpleasantness. People may say, that was a great rant, but I don't think they'd normally say, what a fine harangue. 

But apparently harangue came out of a more neutral context. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word or at least a variant of it seems to have come to Scotland as arang (mid fifteenth century) before England (around 1600). In Middle French, a harangue simply meant a public address and came from the Old Italian aringo, which wasn't even about the speech but referred to a public square, platform, pulpit or arena. And the general idea seems to be that this in turn is taken from an older German word, hring (circle) "with an -a- inserted to ease Romanic pronunciation of Germanic hr-", or maybe even a postulated compound like *hariring, which would mean host-ring or army-ring. 

"Lucius Martius, Roman knight, haranguing his soldiers."
 Although if you're an American, you may think the harangue is protected by our right to free speech, there is one place according to this article from last year where you would be wrong. And that's the Supreme Court. The U.S. Code puts it this way:

"Unlawful to discharge a firearm, firework or explosive, set fire to a combustible, make a harangue or oration, or utter loud, threatening or abusive language in the Supreme Court Building or grounds."

 Best  not to go panhandling around there either.

Read more here:



  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. That's an etymology to capture the imagination, because I never would have guessed it; I've long been content to enjoy the clanking euphony of harangue.

    The Phillies have a pitcher named Aaron Harang, and I always wonder if he used to get yelled at long and hard when he was a kid, or if his disagreements with umpires are especially long and vehement.

    The posture of the speaker in the top photo naturally reminds me of the statue of Jim Larkin on O'Connell Street in Dublin.

  3. Clanking euphony is exactly right.

    The photo is actually from a Paris protest over a law about contracts that was defeated. Larkin looks more like he's lifting people up rather than browbeating them, but I do see the likeness.

  4. Larkin did lift people up. And I have fond memories of that photo. I was snapping pictures of Larkin and the Spire of Dublin when a friendly passing gentleman suggested that if I got the angle just right, I could make Larkin appear to be throwing up his hands at the spire, as if to say, "What the hell is that thing?"

    I was also found it charming that the city (or country) could be so informal as to call Larkin "Jim" on the statue.

  5. Yes, the "Jim" caught my eye too.

  6. The informality is not at all the way Americans treat public figures.

  7. Here's one for you: "Chamber of deputies" in Spanish is "Cámara de diputados." Since a chamber of deputies is a deliberative body, could there be an etymological link between "deputy" and "dispute"?

  8. I will take it under advisement.