What is a term for the kind of criticism you will get from your unreasonable manager for screwing something up or failing to meet a deadline—or that a movie director will get from some religious group for showing something inappropriate about their religion?

  • This question feels a bit like two questions in disguise.
    – Matt
    Feb 17, 2013 at 20:21
  • 2
    It feels a bit like dozens of questions not even thinly disguised. There are any number of terms - formal, slang, idiomatic, etc. How can we possibly vote for any of them as the "right" answer? It's Not Constructive. Feb 17, 2013 at 20:33
  • 1
    @user37324 The plural is not required; some in this context signifies indeterminacy, not quantity, as in somebody or some jerk took my parking space. Feb 17, 2013 at 21:35
  • A number of alternate words are suggested by some posters. If you don’t want to use alternate words, then perhaps you can use adverbs (harshly, badly ..etc). Apr 1, 2013 at 14:23

9 Answers 9


Many words mean "criticize strongly," and some of them have already been listed (looking up scold in a thesaurus yields rebuke, reprimand, reproach, reprove, admonish, chastise, chide, upbraid, and berate, as well as the idiomatic rake over the coals).

However, I think you are looking specifically for an unjustified scolding, because you've labeled the angry manager as unreasonable, and then provided a second example of a church or denomination expressing outrage at a movie director (instead of just skipping the movie).

With that in mind, I'd like to move away from the synonyms of scold, and offer the idiom make something out of nothing, which, according to one online dictionary, means "to say that something is a problem when it is not." Another similar, oft-used (and rather old) idiom is make a mountain out of a molehill. Wikipedia's definition seems to fit your question rather well, when it says that the expression refers to:

over-reactive, histrionic behaviour where a person makes too much of a minor issue

Other online resources show definitions that are not quite so colorful, but the expression still seems to fit:

If you make a mountain out of a molehill, you make a small problem seem to be a much bigger problem.


There are a few different words which you can use depending on context.

In the case of a manager telling someone off, I'd go with

reprimand (Noun)

A rebuke, esp. an official one.


rebuke Verb

Rebuke (someone), esp. officially.

For example

After his unacceptable behaviour at the meeting, Dave was given an official reprimand

You can also use scold, although you should be aware that this word has the implication of say, a teacher scolding a pupil, so a manager scolding a junior member of staff may (depending on context) have a negative connotation on both the manager and member of staff for being unprofessional.

Did you hear that after our meeting Julie publicly scolded David for saying that to the CEO? Yeah. It was really embarrassing. She should have just let his line-manager deal with it.

You can also use lambaste, which has the connotation of being very vocal or very critical, but with less of an "officialness" to it:

In the meeting the CEO lambasted the sales team for their utter failure to put together a proper plan for the next financial year.

Religious groups and politicians might be more likely to condemn something that they feel goes against their religion or which is utterly unacceptable. In particular people tend to condemn decisions rather than people:

Hilary Clinton condemned the mob's decision to burn the flag outside of the US embassy

The decision to closure of the hospital was widely condemned as politican and unfair by local doctors and civic groups

The pop star's decision to show a representation of the Prophet in one of her music videos was widely condemned by Muslim leaders.

  • Hillary (two els) Clinton if you mean the wife of former president Bill Clinton. Jun 5, 2016 at 16:27

Renan has already mentioned one of my first choices, castigate, but also consider the following:
denounce, “To criticize or speak out against (someone or something); to point out as deserving of reprehension or punishment, etc...” and denunciation (“The act of denouncing; public menace or accusation; the act of inveighing against, stigmatizing, or publicly arraigning...”), applicable to comments by a religious group;
lambaste, “To scold, reprimand or criticize harshly”;
chew out, “(idiomatic, US) To lecture, scold, reprimand, or rebuke


I think harangue is an acceptable alternative in a lot of these cases.

A tirade or rant, whether spoken or written.

She gave her son a harangue about the dangers of playing in the street.

The priest took thirty minutes to deliver his harangue on timeliness, making the entire service run late.


A more 'chatty/slang/conversational' word to use, in England (and perhaps the rest of Britain, but I don't know), would be 'slate/slated'.

"I really messed-up at work today. My boss absolutely slated me in his office."


A more colloquial term would be "read (whoever) the riot act" as in "he's going to read them the riot act" (read pronounced like 'reed') meaning he's going to harshly criticize them, or "he read me the riot act" (read pronounced like 'red') meaning he already criticized me harshly. Usually the term implies some kind of official capacity on the part of the criticizer (boss or cop, for example), but can also be used with unofficial criticizers, such as your Mom or girlfriend. "When I forgot our 'anniversary', my girlfriend read me the riot act." Usually implies lots of yelling.


Maybe scold (To reprimand or criticize harshly and usually angrily.) or castigate (To criticize severely.) would be adequate.


Perhaps you are looking for:

to condemn : To scold sharply; to excoriate the perpetrators of.

As in, The religious group condemned the movie and its makers for its blasphemous portrayal.


Since there are so many words and phrases for this, it would help to know which part of the meaning you want to emphasize (eg: the severity, the unfairness, the negativity, etc.). And remember that many native speakers won't know the meanings of some of these words (eg: excoriate). Still, following are some options (some already have been suggested) with comments (AmE). I have put the words emphasizing the inappropriateness in bold.

"chastise" (sounds educated; emphasizes medium to strong severity; fits the situation exactly)

"castigate" (sounds very educated; emphasizes severity and harshness)

"to chew out" (common colloquial phrase; means person-to-person strong scolding)

"to overreact, an overreaction" (common; mild severity; emphasizes the inappropriateness)

"to scold" (slightly old-fashioned; mild to medium severity; sounds like a parent-to-child interaction)

"to excoriate" (sounds very educated; emphasizes strong severity and strong negativity; a good fit but unfamiliar to some)

"to harass" (emphasizes that the receiver was bothered inappropriately; also a legal term which is grounds for a lawsuit so don't use this word in the workplace unless you mean it)

And some phrases (mostly violent similes):

"to really let (someone) have it" (casual speech; commonly heard; conjures vague images of physical blows)

"to beat up on (someone)" (casual; common)

"to tear (someone) a new one" (mildly off-color slang, refers to a body part)

"to read (someone) the riot act" (polite slang)

"to fly off the handle on/at someone" (polite, refers to the head of an axe flying off of its handle while chopping wood)

"to go on a tirade, to rant (about something)" (polite)

"to throw a tantrum about (something)" (common; usually said of children; emphasizes the immaturity of the action)

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