What is the different between abusive, invective and vituperative? In the following definitions from Oxford, the last two both contain abusive, which makes me hard to distinguish them.

Abusive: Extremely offensive and insulting.

Invective: Insulting, abusive, or highly critical language

Vituperative: Bitter and abusive

The only thing I can say about invective is that it is used only in words, not actions.

  • vituperative ? I learned a new word today. – Blessed Geek Feb 16 '15 at 5:47
  • Vituperative is an adjective (the other two are nouns). The related nouns are vituperation and vituperativeness. – Erik Kowal Feb 16 '15 at 6:12
  • @ErikKowal oops, my glitch. I mean abusive. Do we have an adjective for invective? – Ooker Feb 16 '15 at 6:15
  • According to my Chambers 20th Century Dictionary, invective is also an adjective with the meanings 'railing; abusive; satirical' (however, I've never encountered it as anything other than a noun). – Erik Kowal Feb 16 '15 at 6:19
  • Invective: (necessarily) of language. Vituperative: abusive plus bitter. HTH. – Kris Feb 16 '15 at 7:32

The way to tell the last two apart is that, these days, "invective" is almost always used as a noun (as it is in the definition you cited). In older days it apparently was used as an adjective.

"Vituperative" is always an adjective. As commenters have noted, the noun form is "vituperation". One very rarely hears either spoken. Few Americans know these, and fewer still are willing to speak such a five-syllable word in public for fear of being thought erudite or even pedantic.

You could refer to a person as "abusive", but without further clarification that could mean physically abusive, verbally abusive or both. You could say he used abusive language. Anyone would know what you meant.

Invective is a good word to describe so-called rational arguments from supposedly intelligent people that are really disguised ad hominem remarks. William Buckley, for instance, was a master of this, disguising truly offensive views in flowery sesquipedalianism.

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