"notorious" goes neutral

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM
Sun Aug 7 16:27:33 UTC 2011

The OED may have missed the microsemantic boat here.

All cites under 1b since 1865 are in the construction "notorious for."

If I, for example, were to be described simply as "notorious," few people
(even, I'd wager, in the erudite offices of the OED) would assume I was
"notorious for [my] probity" or anything like it, as in the 1927 ex. from
the American journalist and novelist Samuel Hopkins Adams (1871-1958), who
graduated from college in 1891.

_Cyrano de Bergerac_ and Edmond Rostand are not "notorious" in any readily
predictable interpretation of the Chairman's quoted remarks.  Even if I were
to say,

"Edmond Rostand is notorious *for his play*, _Cyrano de Bergerac_,"

without going on to detail (falsely)  what a floperoo it was and how Rostand
wound up in jail in the midst of riots, the statement would call attention
to itself as thoroughly unidiomatic, at least without further negative

But, of course, correct idiom is no substitute for faulty content.


On Sun, Aug 7, 2011 at 9:29 AM, Joel S. Berson <Berson at att.net> wrote:

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       "Joel S. Berson" <Berson at ATT.NET>
> Subject:      Re: "notorious" goes neutral
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> On Sat, Aug 6, 2011 at 6:46 PM, Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at gmail.com
> >wrote:
>  > Today we went to a local production of _The Fantasticks_. The Chairman
> of
>  > the Board of the theater group (in her late '30s, I'd guess) introduced
>  > the performance by saying that it was based on a little-known play by
> the
>  > "famous and notorious Edmond Rostand."
>  >
>  > Rostand's "most notorious play was _Cyrano de Bergerac_."
>  >
>  > No, there was not a hint of irony or playfulness in either her
> intonation
>  > or
>  > her body lingo.
>  >  ...
>  > "Notorious" thus = 'noted; celebrated.'
> But it does, and did --
>  I. With neutral or favourable connotations.
>  1.b. Of a person, place, etc.: well or widely known; famous; (in
> later use) esp. noted for a particular quality or
> feature.  [Quotations from 1555 to 1992.]
> I agree, however, that in 'Rostand's "most notorious play was _Cyrano
> de Bergerac_."', everyone today is likely to take it as --
> II. With depreciative or unfavourable connotations.
> 5. Well known on account of something which is not generally approved
> of or admired; unfavourably known; noted for some bad practice, quality,
> etc.
> b. Of a person, place, etc.
> Joel
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