Polemic vs Polemical – What’s the Difference?

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

Do you like engaging in arguments and expressing your views? Who am I kidding? Pretty much everyone does these days. If that’s you, then you should master the art of polemics. You can write a polemical article to oppose a certain group, religion, or system vehemently.

I’ll explain the definition of polemic and the difference between polemic and polemical. My article also provides examples of polemic in a sentence. Ready?

Is it Polemic or Polemical?

Both polemic and polemical are correct terms, and both are still widely used today, as you can see in this Ngram graph.

Polemic vs polemical ngram

Polemic is a noun that means a debatable or controversial argument refuting principles or opinions. It can also refer to an aggressive controversialist or disputant.

Polemical is an adjective that means involving controversial, critical, or debatable writing or speech.

What Does Polemic Mean in Writing?

It’s a bit complicated, but I’ll do my best to break it down as simply as possible. The meaning of a polemic is often associated with controversial pieces of writing. It’s a mode of writing or speaking that uses disputation, arguments, or debates. A polemicist is someone who uses combative language to oppose others.

One example of an English polemical article or piece of writing is Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, published in 1792. Her main polemic argument is that the educational system manipulated women to be “incapable” or “disadvantaged.”

Other examples of polemics include The Federalist Papers, Das Kapital, and Aeropagitica.

What is a Polemical Argument?

The definition of a polemic argument is an argument that attacks something. A famous polemical argument can be found in The Communist Manifesto by Karl Mar and Friedrich Engels. In this passage, they critique the problems with capitalism:

“Political power, properly so called, is merely the organized power of one class for oppressing another.”

Is Polemic a Negative Word?

Polemic is not necessarily a negative word. Many think that polemicists only provoke controversy through negative opinions, usually toward a specific social group. However, some polemics actually show constructive criticism.

We need polemics to show multiple views on a phenomenon. They are essential for arguing about things we consider huge problems. Without them, only dominant views will prevail in our society.

Polemic in a Sentence

Here are some examples of the word polemic in a sentence.

  • The speech contains a polemic against different religious groups and their doctrines.
  • She claims that the entire chapter is a metaphor for her sickness, but it’s a Protestant polemic.
  • Perhaps his letter was not written with a polemic against the bourgeoisie but exploitative practices in corporations.

“David Dimbleby has suggested Emily Maitlis’s Newsnight monologue about Dominic Cummings was more of a “polemic” and her remarks should have been phrased as questions.” [The Guardian]

“I was filled with a great anger and sadness which fuelled a polemic article that seemed to erupt through my fingers straight on to the page. The title was ‘Why are we crying, we are all guilty’…” [CNN]

Polemic Summary

I hope my article has shown you the definition of polemic and how it differs from polemical. Polemic is a noun meaning debatable argument. Polemical is an adjective version of the noun that describes a controversialidea.

Remember that polemic is not a negative term. Be a meaningful polemicist that advocates for a cause and expresses strong opinions for the common good.