Known widely and usually unfavorably: a notorious pirate; a region notorious for floods.
[From Medieval Latin nōtōrius, well-known, from Latin nōtus, known, past participle of nōscere, to get to know; see gnō- in the Appendix of Indo-European roots.]
Usage Note: Although notorious and notoriety have been used in negative, positive, and neutral contexts since the 1500s, over the years, notorious (and to a lesser extent notoriety) has come to be used primarily in negative contexts, often with a connotation of wickedness or undesirability. In our 2011 survey, 81 percent of the Usage Panel accepted the sentence The region is notorious for its seismic disturbances, whereas only 26 percent accepted a sentence that used notorious in a situation where the circumstances for fame are positive: She is notorious for her excellent standup comedy routines. The Panel is somewhat more willing to accept notoriety in a positive context: almost half (45 percent) approved of the sentence His success on college campuses brought him enough notoriety to release a greatest hits CD.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2018 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
The American Heritage Dictionary Blog
Check out our blog, updated regularly, for new words and revised definitions, interesting images from the 5th edition, discussions of usage, and more.