I used to think "notoriety" is "negative fame", but saw "The keynote speaker is notorious for his work in the field" with the obviously positive connotation. So which is it? Both?

  • Some more context would help, such as who was the speaker, what is the field, who is providing the comment? – Cascabel Feb 20 '16 at 12:48
  • The Conference was organized by the AZ Department of Education; the speaker was Dr. Luis Cruz, and here is the link to the statement that puzzled me: azed.gov/oelasconf/2015-featured-speakers. I also questions a few colleagues, educators and linguists, and they agreed on the possibility of a positive connotation. However, Merriam Webster states it is "well-known especially for something bad," so I am surprised at its use to describe a well-known educator. – Katherine Feb 20 '16 at 12:53
  • Sometimes it is used in a humorous way when the commentator knows the person well, kind of like an inside joke. It's also possible that Dr. Cruz has broached some controversial topics in the past. That's why context is important. – Cascabel Feb 20 '16 at 13:02
  • @Gandalf I see your point; do I conclude it was misused in a dead serious brochure and website? – Katherine Feb 20 '16 at 13:10
  • 3
    I noticed the site is about a Spanish speaker. In Spanish and French, the word notorious connotes positively. It is what translators (like myself) call a false friend. The word is the same but the meaning shifts. – Lambie Feb 20 '16 at 13:47

The negative connotation arose during the 17th century when the term notorious started to be used mainly referring to people who had become famous for negative reasons:


  • the condition of being famous or well-known especially for something bad : the state of being notorious. (M-W)



  • 1590s, from Middle French notoriété or directly from Medieval Latin notorietatem (nominative notorietas), from notorius "well-known" (see notorious).

notorious (adj.)

  • 1540s, "publicly known," from Medieval Latin notorius "well-known, commonly known," from Latin notus "known," past participle of noscere "come to know" (see know). Negative connotation arose 17c. from frequent association with derogatory nouns.



With deference to Josh61's excellent and scholarly answer, I will add that notorious retains a neutral connotation in a very limited range of 21st C applications, notably in common law.

The principle of Adverse Possession, a means by which a trespasser may acquire title to property. here provided courtesy of Cornell University Law School:

Adverse possession is a doctrine under which a person in possession of land owned by someone else may acquire valid title to it, so long as certain common law requirements are met, and the adverse possessor is in possession for a sufficient period of time, as defined by a statute of limitations.

The common law requirements have evolved over time, and the articulation of those requirements varies somewhat from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Typically, adverse possession, in order to ripen into title, must be:

(1) Continuous..(2) Hostile...(3) Open and notorious, so as to put the true owner on notice that a trespasser is in possession...

There's more, but that's the relevant bit.

It's added as an answer rather than a comment since (a) it's lengthy and (b) it provides a current-use exception to the generally-accepted negative connotation of notorious.

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