Printable Version
Pronunciation: vi-tree-ah-lik Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. (Literally) Containing or similar to sulfuric acid or any of the metal sulfates. 2. (Figuratively) Extremely caustic, scathing, filled with rage and abasement, often accompanied by profanity.

Notes: Today's Good Word comes from the noun vitriol, which once was the name for metal sulfates including sulfuric (vitriolic) acid, hence the caustic flavor of its current meaning. To add sulfates to a compound is to vitriolate it. The spelling and pronunciation of this word are rather straightforward; just remember the accented O.

In Play: The recent political elections in the US saw far too many vitriolic attacks: "Highly vitriolic political attacks only inflame the debate over real issues and encourage violence." Perhaps politicians should remember that there is no problem that anger solves. But politics is not the only arena in which we find too much vitriol: "Jess Newcomb's vitriolic attack on his neighbor for playing loud music late at night was grossly disproportionate to the neighbor's misdeed."

Word History: Today's Good Word comes from Latin vitreolus "of glass, like glass, glassy", the adjective of vitrum "glass". So, how did we get from "glass" to "vitriolic", you may rightly wonder. For the answer to this question, we have to go back farther than glass. The original meaning of vitrum was "woad" (related to weed), a plant from which Romans derived blue dye. Since Roman glass had a bluish tint, the word for "woad", vitrum, gradually migrated to the meaning "glass". In the Germanic languages vitriol was borrowed to refer to acid, a glassy, transparent liquid so, initially, vitriol had an appropriate sense. However, since acid is also caustic, it is in that sense we use vitriolic today. (Today's Good Word comes to us under the auspices of Suzanne Russell, who joins us at alphaDictionary in wishing for a far less vitriolic political world in 2013.)

Dr. Goodword,

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