I'm interested in understanding the meanings of the 2 words :

contumacious - Wilfully obstinate; stubbornly disobedient


contumelious - Arrogantly insolent

in the context of their word roots. It seems that they have at least 1 root in common, so it would be nice to know the other 2 different roots, and their other usages in English words (if any).

  • 1
    simply use google or dictionary for these kind of questions.
    – Gigili
    May 8, 2011 at 18:16

2 Answers 2


Both come from Latin contumax, "haughty, stubborn", which in turn comes from tumeo, "to swell, be swollen". (See Etymonline.com — not related to contemno.)

  • But my point is that in fact they don't. While it would be possible to derive English words from "contumeliosus" and "contumaciter", the two English words do not have those meanings. The meanings they do have are specific and technical, in a court of law. I don't believe they are ever used elsewhere (anybody?), so the corrct answer might be "from 18th C. lawyers, who misused Latin". May 8, 2011 at 21:44
  • @TimLymington: Oh, I didn't say anything about their usage or meaning, only about etymology. Your answer suggests that they come from contemno, which I think is not the case. May 8, 2011 at 23:16

The common root is "contempt" (or, strictly, Latin contemnere). I believe that when common law was being established in the 18th century, 'contempt of court' required much careful definition, and lawyers formed these two from dubious classical parallels to express slightly different concepts. Certainly I've only come across either in an outdated legal context.

  • Not according to the OED. "Contumacious" has a specifically legal meaning as one of its senses (dated to 1600), but there's no mention of the law in "contumelious", which it records from 1483, or of persons from 1548.
    – Colin Fine
    May 8, 2011 at 23:06

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