invective (rhetoric)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

Inherent in epideictic oratory (which includes panegyric and invective) was "an element of exhibitionism--the rhetorical virtuoso display, with no further societal ambition than to be enjoyed and appreciated of itself" (Roger Rees, "Panegryic" in A Companion to Roman Rhetoric, 2010). (Hill Street Studios/Getty Images)


Invective is denunciatory or abusive language--discourse that casts blame on somebody or something. Adverb: invectively. Contrast with encomium and panegyric. Also known as vituperation or rant.

"In the Latin rhetorical tradition," notes Valentina Arena, "vituperatio (invective), together with its opposite laus (praise), belongs to the principal topics that make up the genus demonstrativum, or epideictic oratory ("Roman Oratorical Invective" in A Companion to Roman Rhetoric, 2010).

Invective is one of the classical rhetorical exercises known as the progymnasmata.

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

From the Latin, "to inveigh against"

Examples of Invective

Additional Examples

  • "Curse the blasted, jelly-boned swines, the slimy, the belly-wriggling invertebrates, the miserable sodding rotters, the flaming sods, the snivelling, dribbling, dithering, palsied pulse-less lot that make up England today. . . . God, how I hate them! God curse them, funkers. God blast them, wishwash. Extermine them, slime.
    "I could curse for hours and hours--God help me."
    (D.H. Lawrence, letter to editor Edward Garnett, July 3, 1912)
  • "[T]his is just the sort of blinkered philistine pig-ignorance I've come to expect from you non-creative garbage. You sit there on your loathsome spotty behinds squeezing blackheads, not caring a tinker's cuss for the struggling artist. You excrement, you whining hypocritical toadies with your colour TV sets and your Tony Jacklin golf clubs and your bleeding masonic secret handshakes. You wouldn't let me join, would you, you blackballing bastards."
    (John Cleese in Monty Python's "The Architect Sketch")
  • Shakespearean Invective
    "A knave, a rascal, an eater of broken meats; a base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited, hundred-pound, filthy worsted-stocking knave; a lily-livered, action-taking, whoreson, glass-gazing, super-serviceable, finical rogue; one-trunk-inheriting slave; one that wouldst be a bawd in way of good service, and art nothing but the composition of a knave, beggar, coward, pander, and the son and heir to a mongrel bitch: one whom I will beat into clamorous whining if thou deni'st the least syllable of thy addition."
    (Kent addressing Oswald in William Shakespeare's King Lear, II.2)
  • Michael Bywater on Telephone Call Centers
    "'Call' is valid. But 'centre'? These things, these instruments of torture, these cheese-paring, moronic bastard children of the sclerotic brains of purse-lipped accountants and the madness of perpetually pre-adolescent computer programmers, are not central to anything except their companies' urge to save money."
    (Michael Bywater, Lost Worlds. Granta Books, 2004)
  • Rabelaisian Invective
    "Even though it can't really avoid a tendency toward verbal oversupply, the invective mode needn't fall victim to it, for self-mockery converts a failing to a point of strength. When [François] Rabelais [French author of Gargantua and Pantagruel] is describing how the cake-bakers of Lerné responded to a modest request by their neighbors the grape-growers, nothing is clearer than that he, and his translators Urquhart and Motteaux, took the occasion as a pretext for virtuoso vocabulary-display. The cake-bakers not only declined to sell the grape-growers cakes at the regular market rate: but (which was worse) did injure them most outrageously, calling them pratling gablers, licorous gluttons, freckled bittors, mangy rascals, shiteabed scoundrels, drunken roysterers, sly knaves, drowsy loiterers, slapsauce fellows, slabberdegullion druggles, lubbardly louts, cozening foxes, ruffian rogues, paultry customers, sycophant-varlets, drawlatch hoydons, flouting milksops, jeering companions, staring clowns, forlorn snakes, ninnie lobcocks, scurvy sneaksbies, fondling fops, base loons, saucy coxcombs, idle lusks, scoffing braggards, noddy meacocks, blockish grutnols, doddi-poljolt-heads, jobbernol goosecaps, foolish loggerheads, flutch calf-lollies, grouthead gnat-snappers, lob-dotterels, gaping changelings, codshead loobies, woodcock slangams, ninnie-hammer fly-catchers, noddiepeak simpletons, turdy-gut shitten shepherds, and other such like defamatory epithets. It's very hard to improve on this as an instance of the insult vociferous; and one notes especially the way it draws attention from the insultee to the insultor, balanced as he is precariously on his commitment to an unbroken stream of invention. He cannot repeat, he cannot hesitate, he cannot descend from the whirlwind of his language even to consider the occasion of it."
    (Robert Martin Adams, Bad Mouth: Fugitive Papers on the Dark Side. University of California Press, 1977)
  • Mark Helprin on the Libertines of Novelty
    "No one is entirely free of responsibility except perhaps the dead. Not least among them are the libertines of novelty, who promiscuously embrace the new in whatever form just to be on top of the wave. Not only have they institutionalized much of what is harmful, they have cast aside much that is good. The sum of these, their two actions, is a gaping negative that threatens in a decade or two to dissolve the accomplishments of millennia, reordering the ways in which we think, write, and communicate. It would be one thing if such a revolution produced Mozarts, Einsteins, or Raphaels, but it doesn't. It produces mouth-breathing morons in backwards baseball caps and pants that fall down; Slurpee-sucking geeks who seldom see daylight; pretentious and earnest hipsters who want you to wear bamboo socks so the world won't end; women who have lizard tattoos winding from the navel to the nape of the neck; beer-drinking dufuses who pay to watch noisy cars driving around in a circle for eight hours at a stretch; and an entire race of females, now entering middle age, that speaks in North American Chipmunk and seldom makes a statement without, like, a question mark at the end? What hath God wrought, and why didn't he stop with the telegraph?"
    (Mark Helprin, Digital Barbarism: A Writer's Manifesto. HarperCollins, 2009)


  • "Classical invective sought to denigrate an individual on the basis of birth, upbringing, 'mechanical' professions, moral defects, physical shortcomings, and so on. It was a branch of epideictic oratory which aimed at undermining the credibility of a judicial witness or political opponent by impugning his integrity. Accordingly, its realm was that of ethos, or personal character."
    (Francesco Petrarca, Invectives, trans. by David Marsh. Harvard University Press, 2003)
  • "Invective need not be true but only point to real or imagined defects in an enemy's character by comparison with similar defects in shameful stock figures. Cicero himself advises, in cases where an opponent has lived a blameless life or has a long-standing reputation, that an orator could concoct a charge that he has been 'concealing his true character' (De inventione rhetorica, 2.10.34)."
    (J. Albert Harrill, Slaves in the New Testament. Augsburg Fortress, 2006)
  • John Dryden on Artful Invective
    "How easy it is to call rogue and villain, and that wittily! But how hard to make a man appear a fool, a blockhead, or a knave, without using any of those opprobrious terms! There is a vast difference between the slovenly butchering of a man, and the fineness of a stroke that separates the head from the body, and leaves it standing in its place."
    (John Dryden, Discourse Concerning Satire, 1693)

Pronunciation: in-VEK-tiv

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Nordquist, Richard. "invective (rhetoric)." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 26). invective (rhetoric). Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "invective (rhetoric)." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 27, 2023).