public enemy number one

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public enemy number one (uncountable)

  1. (US, law enforcement, dated) A person who ranks highest on the federal government's prioritized list of wanted criminal fugitives.
    • 1934 July 22, "Dillinger Slain in Chicago," New York Times, p. 1 (retrieved 26 Oct 2016):
      John Dillinger, America's Public Enemy No. 1 and the most notorious criminal of recent times, was shot and killed at 10:40 o'clock tonight by Federal agents.
    • 1946, George Johnston, Skyscrapers in the Mist, page 119:
      "Sure you never heard of him?" he asked incredulously. "Never," I said flatly. "You must have," he argued. "Why Hamilton was a Public Enemy No. 1 at one time."
  2. (idiomatic, by extension) A person, organization, or other object considered to be particularly menacing, harmful, or loathsome.
    • 1983 Jan. 27, William Safire, "Essay: The Midterm Crisis," New York Times (retrieved 26 Oct 2016):
      The fact is that Reaganomics slowed down the breakneck economy and succeeded in defeating public enemy number one, runaway inflation.
    • 1995 Oct 12, Peter Victor, "A tale of Flopsy, Mopsy and public enemy No 1," Independent (UK) (retrieved 26 Oct 2016):
      The Isle of Man's public enemy number one—the rabbit—can breathe easier today. The price on its head, or tail, was revoked.
    • 2014 Jan. 27, Deborah Kotz, "Are no-calorie sweeteners safe?," Boston Globe (retrieved 26 Oct 2016):
      As sugar has become public enemy number one in the battle against obesity, many Americans have fed their sweet tooth with artificially sweetened diet drinks.