Monday 21 January 2019

A short version of the long history of the word 'vituperative' in political debate

Leo Varadkar (Niall Carson/PA)
Leo Varadkar (Niall Carson/PA) Newsdesk Newsdesk

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar described some of the criticism aimed at him in the Dáil by Fianna Fail leader Micheál Martin as 'vituperative', bringing back into the discourse a word last heard in the Houses of the Oireachtas 18 years ago.

"A lot of what the Leader of the Opposition has said has been personalised, it has been vituperative and it has even been venomous towards me and my staff and towards some people in the Civil Service,” Mr Varadkar said in response to ongoing criticism of the Strategic Communications Unit.

The word 'vituperative' comes from the Latin vituperationem, meaning blaming or censuring.

It was a favourite term of John F Kennedy, who used it five times in his Pulitzer Prize winning 1957 book 'Profiles In Courage' whic details the lives of eight former 19th Century US Senators.

The word was first used in the Dáil in 1928, during a debate over finances.

Fine Gael TCD for Mayo South James Fitzgerald Kenney accused opposition TDs, including a young Sean Lemass, of a 'vituperative campaign' against the Civic Guards, the body we now call An Garda Siochana.

The term has been used in the Houses of the Oireachtas 44 times since, including Mr Varadkar's remark yesterday.

Prior to that term had not been heard since a Seanad debate on University recognition in 2000.

On October 26, 2000 Des O'Malley, former Progressive Democrat leader, said: "I have found myself the subject of some very vituperative comments, publicly and privately, in the Seanad and elsewhere because I had the temerity to challenge some of what was going on."

We suspect it won't be quite as long before we hear it uttered again.

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