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From Late Middle English notoryous, from Medieval Latin nōtōrius (evident, known; famous, well-known; infamous), from Latin nōtus (known, recognized; familiar, widely known; famous, well-known; infamous) + -tōrius (suffix forming adjectives).[1] Nōtus is the perfect passive participle of nōscō (to become acquainted with or learn about (something); (rare) to be familiar with, recognize), ultimately from Proto-Indo-European *ǵneh₃- (to know; to recognize).



notorious (comparative more notorious, superlative most notorious)

  1. Senses with an unfavourable connotation.
    1. Of a person or entity: generally or widely known for something negative; infamous.
      Synonym: ill-famed
      Antonym: famous
    2. Of an act, situation, etc.: blameworthy in an obvious and offensive way; blatant, flagrant.
      • c. 1594 (date written), William Shakespeare, “The Comedie of Errors”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies [] (First Folio), London: [] Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, →OCLC, [Act IV, scene i], page 93, column 2:
        Sir, ſir, I ſhall haue Lavv in Epheſus, / To your notorious ſhame, I doubt it not.
      • 1626 May 10, John Donne, “A Sermon Preached to the Household at White-hall, April 30. 1626 [Julian calendar]. Sermon VIII.”, in XXVI. Sermons (Never before Publish’d) Preached by that Learned and Reverend Divine John Donne, [], London: [] Thomas Newcomb, [], published 1661, →OCLC, page 108:
        [T]he Apoſtle by the vvord diſorderly, does not mean perſons that live in any courſe of notorious ſin; but by diſorderly, he means Ignavos, Inutiles, idle and unprofitable perſons; perſons of no uſe to the Church, or to the State: []
      • 1723, [Daniel Defoe], The History and Remarkable Life of the Truly Honourable Col. Jacque, Commonly Call’d Col. Jack, [], 2nd edition, London: [] J. Brotherton, [], →OCLC, page 98:
        [H]e vvas Charg'd upon Oath, vvith having been a Party in a notorious Robbery, Burglary, and Murther, committed ſo and ſo, in ſuch a Place, and on ſuch a Day.
  2. Senses with a favourable or neutral connotation.
    1. Generally or widely known; of common knowledge; famous or well-known.
      • a. 1587 (date written), Philip Sidney, “Psalm XX. Exaudiat te Dominus.”, in The Psalmes of David [], London: From the Chiswick Press by C[harles] Whittingham, for Robert Triphook, [], published 1823, →OCLC, page 30:
        Lett him [God] notorious make, / That in good part he did thy offrings take.
      • 1610, William Camden, “The Author to the Reader”, in Philémon Holland, transl., Britain, or A Chorographicall Description of the Most Flourishing Kingdomes, England, Scotland, and Ireland, [], London: [] [Eliot’s Court Press for] Georgii Bishop & Ioannis Norton, →OCLC:
        Some vvill blame me for that I have omitted this and that tovvne and Caſtle, as though I purpoſed to mention any but ſuch as vvere moſt notorious, and vvere mentioned by ancient authours. Neither verily vvere it vvorth the labour once to name them, vvhen as beſide the naked name there is nothing memorable.
      • 1613, Samuel Purchas, “[Asia.] Of the Re-peopling of the World: And of the Diuision of Tongues and Nations.”, in Purchas His Pilgrimage. Or Relations of the World and the Religions Observed in All Ages and Places Discouered, from the Creation vnto this Present. [], London: [] William Stansby for Henrie Fetherstone, [], →OCLC, book I [Of the First Beginnings of the World and Religion: And of the Regions and Religions of Babylonia, Assyria, Syria, Phænicia, and Palestina], pages 38–39:
        Of Cham is the name Chemmis in Aegipt; and Ammon the Idol and Oracle ſo notorious.
      • 1774 (first performance), Samuel Foote, edited by [George] Colman, The Cozeners; a Comedy, [], London: [] T[homas] Sherlock, for T[homas] Cadell, [], published 1778, →OCLC, Act II, page 56:
        Mrs. Fl[eece'em]. Hymn? then the Doctor ſings, I preſume. / Mrs. Sim[ony]. Not a better pipe at the playhouſe; he has been long notorious for that: Then he is as chearful, and has ſuch a choice collection of ſongs!
    2. (obsolete)
      1. Clear, evident, obvious.
        • 1608, Edward Topsell, “Of the Description and Differences of Bees”, in The Historie of Serpents. Or, The Second Booke of Liuing Creatures: [], London: [] William Jaggard, →OCLC, page 66:
          For the elder ſort of them are rough, hard, thinne and leane ſcragges, ſtatuelinges, lothſome to touch and to looke vpon, ſomevvhat long, nothing but skinne and bone, yet very notorious and goodly too ſee to, in regard of their grauity, hoarenes and aunciency.
        • a. 1678 (date written), Isaac Barrow, “Sermon XVII. The Folly of Slander.”, in The Works of Dr. Isaac Barrow. [], volume II, London: A[braham] J[ohn] Valpy, [], published 1830, →OCLC, pages 20–21:
          It is not every possibility, every seeming, every faint show or glimmering appearance, which sufficeth to ground bad opinion or reproachful discourse concerning our brother: the matter should be clear, notorious, and palpable, before we admit a disadvantageous conceit into our head, a distasteful resentment into our heart, a harsh word into our mouth about him.
        • 1691, John Ray, The Wisdom of God Manifested in the Works of the Creation. [], London: [] Samuel Smith, [], →OCLC, part II, page 18:
          [T]he failing in any one of theſe [members of the body] vvould cauſe Irregularity in the Body, and in many of them ſuch as vvould be very notorious.
      2. Generally or widely knowable.
        • 1531, Thomas Elyot, “Of Promise and Couenant”, in Ernest Rhys, editor, The Boke Named the Governour [] (Everyman’s Library), London: J[oseph] M[alaby] Dent & Co; New York, N.Y.: E[dward] P[ayson] Dutton & Co, published [1907], →OCLC, 3rd book, page 220:
          But what hope is there to haue fidelitie well kept amonge us in promises and bargaynes, whan for the breache therof is prouided no punisshement, nor yet notorious rebuke; []
        • 1622, Francis, Lord Verulam, Viscount St. Alban [i.e. Francis Bacon], The Historie of the Raigne of King Henry the Seventh, [], London: [] W[illiam] Stansby for Matthew Lownes, and William Barret, →OCLC, page 25:
          The King therefore firſt called his Councell together at the Charter-houſe at Shine. VVhich Councell vvas held vvith great ſecrecie, but the open Decrees thereof, vvhich preſently came abroad, vvere three. [] The next vvas, that Edvvard Plantagenet, then Cloſe-priſoner in the Tovver, ſhould be in the moſt publike and notorious manner, that could be deuiſed, ſhevved vnto the people: In part to diſcharge the King of the Enuie of that opinion and bruite, hovv he had beene put to death priuily in the Tovver; []
        • 1818, Henry Hallam, “On the Feudal System, Especially in France”, in View of the State of Europe during the Middle Ages. [], volume I, London: John Murray, [], →OCLC, part II, page 205:
          They [legislative ordinances] were in some instances promulgated by the king in parliament. Others were sent thither for registration, or entry upon their records. This formality was by degrees, if not from the beginning, deemed essential to render them authentic and notorious, and therefore indirectly gave them sanction and validity of a law.

Usage notes[edit]

The word notorious originally had a neutral or positive connotation (sharing a Latin root with the words notable and noteworthy) but is now usually associated with negative characteristics. The word is still used to describe positive characteristics (“a notorious perfectionist” or “notorious for his generosity”) but this use is now considered playful or ironic as a result of the word’s negative connotations.[2]


Derived terms[edit]

Related terms[edit]



notorious (comparative more notorious, superlative most notorious)

  1. (obsolete) Synonym of notoriously


  1. ^ Compare notorious, adj.1 and adv.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, December 2022; notorious, adj.”, in Lexico,; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022.
  2. ^ “Is ‘Notorious’ always Negative?”, in Merriam-Webster[1], 2016 November 1, archived from the original on 2022-10-29.

Further reading[edit]