You know what it is when someone launches into a profanity-laced torrent of irate verbiage, an oral rampage of outrage, against someone or something. Oh yes. What does one launch into? What is always against someone or something and often profanity-laced? Yes, when someone is fit to be tied and makes a verbal raid on some subject, it’s a tirade. Alas, the person on the receiving end is so rarely the one responsible for the provoking state of affairs. Hey, as they say in French, ne tirez pas sur le pianiste! Don’t shoot the piano player!

Funny, isn’t it: in English it’s shoot but in French they say tirez sur, which literally translates to ‘draw on’ or ‘pull on’ – or, more figuratively, aim at or shoot at. From that, a volley or shot is a tirade (which in French sounds sort of like English “tea rad”): literally something pulled, but actually something let fly. A salvo. Figuratively, it’s also a long passage of prose or a speech. In English, it has a specialized use referring to a passage of poetry, but in ordinary use it always includes a sense of vehemence. A tirade is like a harangue. Long.

Just like the vowels in it. Well, they’re what we call “long”; actually, they’re diphthongs now, not lengthened versions of their “short” counterparts. They start with the mouth wider open, and then it narrows down, like biting. This seems to make the word tenser, wilder, more expansive and more aggressive. It also gives a stronger echo of other angry words. Just as the words rampage and outrage, which come from French and have the same –age suffix as garage and garbage, express their tension and resemblance to rage with the turning of a reduced “short” vowel into a full-value diphthong, tirade sounds more irate and more like I rage and I hate when the original French vowels are reinterpreted according to English orthography. Though she might tell tales at length, Scheherazade would not launch into a tirade – but a pirate might, or a raider, or a tyrant… unleashing it on his poor tired aide.

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