poison pen

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poison pen (plural poison pens)

  1. (idiomatic) A manner, means, or tone of expression had by a written work, characterized by spitefulness, defamation, and/or intimidation directed toward a person, organization, or point of view.
    • 1936, "Maine Politics Afield," Lewiston Evening Journal (USA), 31 Aug. (retrieved 27 Aug. 2010):
      Peter Isaacson continued his attack on Hearst and the poison pen of his editors.
    • 2003, Marc Santora, "Rowland Vows to Stay On as Governor," New York Times, 17 Dec. (retrieved 27 Aug. 2010):
      After Mr. Rowland spoke, his wife, Patricia, delivered a spoof on the poem "Twas the Night Before Christmas," that was a stinging sing-song rebuke of the news organizations that had reported on her husband's shortcomings and the widening federal investigation into his administration. Referring to the news media, she said: "They used to be good girls and boys, Santa said. But the poison pen's power has gone to their head."
    • 2004, Matt Wells, "Lynda Lee-Potter, doyenne of columnists, dies," guardian.co.uk, 21 Oct. (retrieved 27 Aug. 2010):
      The centrepiece of her work was a weekly column that could brim with venom . . . . Cherie Blair, Geri Halliwell, Sarah Ferguson, Victoria Beckham and Princess Diana all found themselves the subjects of Lee-Potter's poison pen.
  2. (attributive, sometimes hyphenated) Of, pertaining to, or possessing such a manner of expression.
    • 1938, "Editorial: Watch Out For The Poison Pen," The Afro-American, 5 Nov., p. 4 (retrieved 27 Aug. 2010):
      In a fair political fight in which neither side wishes to take unfair advantage of an opponent, last-minute poison-pen circulars should be banned.
    • 1982, Anthony Lewis, "The poisoning of the well," St. Petersburg Times, 25 May, p. 10A (retrieved 27 Aug. 2010):
      This collection of garbage and guilt-by-association was slipped into the files of the White House personnel office last fall. . . . Who was responsible for the poison-pen attack? No one signed it, and no one has taken responsibility.
    • 2004, Anthony McCarron, "Baseball in the Bronx playing like New York's greatest theater," New York Daily News, 24 Aug. (retrieved 27 Aug. 2010):
      He's been harsh, too, reacting with the swift kick of a poison-pen reviewer when he doesn't like what he sees on his stage.

Usage notes[edit]

  • Attributive usages are very common.

Derived terms[edit]