After a gunman opened fire June 14 on a Republican congressional baseball practice, responses from the public and the media tended to focus less on American gundamentalism than on the mood that fuels it. One word was used over and over to describe that mood: vitriol.
“It didn’t take long for partisan vitriol to erupt,” noted the lede of a story in USA Today. “Vitriol Is Poisoning America,” lamented the writer of a letter to the Chicago Tribune. A columnist for the Providence (Rhode Island) Journal – “no fan of Trump” – wrote that the American left should “admit that their – our – vitriol can be as bad. Or worse” than that of the president’s supporters. Representative Jackie Speier, Democrat of California, took to Twitter to condemn partisan vitriol:
Many members talked about threats to their lives and families. The vitriol must stop.— Jackie Speier (@RepSpeier) June 14, 2017
As did non-politicians.
Why have so many folks calling for the end of ideological vitriol today not cared about marginalized people who have been targeted & harmed?— Melissa McEwan (@Shakestweetz) June 14, 2017
Why would murderous, lunatic, fascist Leftists promulgating hatred and spewing vitriol want to disarm innocent, law abiding citizens?— Covfefe Craig (@Cwtkns) June 15, 2017
All of them were using vitriol in its contemporary sense: “bitterness” or “acrimony of feeling or utterance.” But it took 400 years for that meaning to take root in English.