no-tê-rai-ê-tiee • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. Famous, well-known or widely known, often in a negative or pejorative sense. 2. A famous or widely known person, a notorious personality, as a show with several guest notorieties.
Notes: Today's Good Word is a good example of the difference between a word and its usage. Notoriety by itself simply means "famous, well-known"; however, it is used most often to refer to that which is known for its bad qualities, such as a notorious criminal. This makes the use of this word quite tricky since its connotations tend to be pejorative. Notoriety is the noun for the adjective notorious.
In Play: Here is an example that allows both the positive and negative senses of today's Good Word, depending on whether you are a radical Muslim or not: "Osama bin Laden gained singular notoriety around the world through his egregious acts of terrorism." However, this word may be used in a strictly positive sense: "The cormorant has a notoriety for its ability to dive deeply and quickly for fish."
Word History: Today's Good Word left a large path that is easy to trace. It comes immediately from Latin notorius "well-known" from notus, the past participle of noscere "to get to know". The original root word was Proto-Indo-European gno- "to know", which lost its initial G to become noscere. It came to English in several forms, once the G changed, as expected, to K. We obviously have know, whose meaning hasn't changed. But we also have can, which still means "know how to". Less obvious, that is it in kith of kith and kin, which originally meant "folks you know". It remained pretty much unchanged in Latin words like cognoscere "to get to know" and ignorare "to not know". We borrowed both these stems in words like cognition, incognito, ignore, and ignorance. (We can't ignore Patti Pace of Branford, Connecticut, who suggested today's word, but we must bring her a bit of notoriety by publicly thanking her for the thought.)
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