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From Old French contumelie, from Latin contumēlia (insult), perhaps from com- + tumeō (swell).


  • (UK) IPA(key): /ˈkɒntjuːməli/
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contumely (countable and uncountable, plural contumelies)

  1. Offensive and abusive language or behaviour; scorn, insult.
    • c. 1599–1602, William Shakespeare, “The Tragedie of Hamlet, Prince of Denmarke”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies [] (First Folio), London: [] Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, OCLC 606515358, (please specify the act number in uppercase Roman numerals, and the scene number in lowercase Roman numerals):
      For who would beare the Whips and Scornes of time, The Oppressors wrong, the poore mans Contumely [...]
    • 1794, Robert Southey, Wat Tyler. A Dramatic Poem. In Three Acts, London: [] [J. M‘Creery] for Sherwood, Neely, and Jones, [], published 1817, OCLC 362102, Act I, page 21:
      Think of the insults, wrongs, and contumelies, / Ye bear from your proud lords—that your hard toil / Manures their fertile fields—you plow the earth, / You sow the corn, you reap the ripen'd harvest,— / They riot on the produce!— [...]
    • 1857, Anthony Trollope, Barchester Towers, Volume the Second, page 19 →ISBN
      She had been subjected to contumely and cross-questoning and ill-usage through the whole evening.
    • 1911, Joseph Conrad, Under Western Eyes[1]:
      Even the comfort of the bottle might conceivably fail him in this supreme crisis. At such an age nothing but a halter could cure the pangs of an unquenchable passion. And, besides, there was the wild exasperation aroused by the unjust aspersions and the contumely of the house, with the maddening impossibility to account for that mysterious thrashing, added to these simple and bitter sorrows.
    • 1914, Grace Livingston Hill, The Best Man:
      What scorn, what contumely, would be his!
    • 1953, James Strachey, translating Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams, Avon Books, p. 178:
      If this picture of the two psychical agencies and their relation to the consciousness is accepted, there is a complete analogy in political life to the extraordinary affection which I felt in my dream for my friend R., who was treated with such contumely during the dream's interpretation.
    • 1962, Arthur Hailey, chapter 2, in In High Places:
      ignoring the outcry, Harvey Warrender continued heatedly, 'If this government had been guilty of a breach of law, we would deserve the contumely of the House.'
    • 1976, Robert Nye, Falstaff:
      I could think of no words adequate to the occasion. So I belched. Not out of contumely, you understand. It was a sympathetic belch, a belch of brotherhood.

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