I was recently asked why I used the word notoriety in a sentence about Alex Honnold. In this case - I believe the sentence was "Alex Honnold achieved increasing notoriety after the 60 Minutes interview with footage of his free solo of Half-Dome.

I meant to use notoriety in a totally positive way - and I don't know of any better alternative.

Is there a more appropriate term than notoriety? Is notoriety incorrect?

  • 1
    Notoriety usually has negative connotations. You could try fame, acclaim, reputation
    – Lee Leon
    Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 15:25
  • Wouldn't fame be the obvious answer?
    – Zebrafish
    Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 17:06

2 Answers 2


Notoriety means "the state of being famous or well known for some bad quality or deed.".

"Bad" can have positive connotations due to the general phenomenon of "outlaws being sexy", for want of a better way of putting it. This is the same reasoning which produces phrases like "Bad m*ther f*cker", or the Michael Jackson lyric "I'm bad, you know it!", all of which originates from African-American culture as far as I know. "Bad" here means "formidable" or "dangerous", both of which can be seen as positive qualities in some circumstances.

So, "notorious" can be used to mean "famous", but with a connotation of danger or being an "outlaw". Danger certainly applies to someone free-climbing a mountain, which is what your example refers to. It may even be illegal, for all I know, adding to the "outlaw" aspect of it.

So, notoriety is fine to use in this sort of circumstance. As to whether there's a more appropriate term, I'd say that's the choice of the writer: if you want to describe what someone is doing in purely positive terms, it's not a good choice.

It's worth pointing out that it's quite ambiguous, on its own, regarding whether it means "bad meaning good" or simply "bad". For example, when talking about the notoriety of a rock singer, you could mean that they are "a badass", who performs electrifying shows which are so exciting that the audience sometimes riot and smash the place up. Or you could mean that they have a tendency to come on two hours late, drunk, and do a terrible performance which leaves everyone disappointed.

  • But ODO includes the positive and 'playfully mischievous' senses of wicked. OP asks for a 'totally positive' alternative. Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 15:38
  • @EdwinAshworth True - I was responding to the final question "(Is "notoriety" incorrect???)" but I haven't offered a totally positive alternative. Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 15:41
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    Also, while I'd agree with a lot of what you claim about the 'bad = good' ... metaphor?... , I couldn't argue that the definition you give is proof that 'notoriety' can be used this way. Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 15:45

What about glory? According to Cambridge Dictionary:

"great admiration, honour, and praise that you earn by doing something successfully"

In your example:

Alex Honnold gained increasing glory after the 60 Minutes interview with footage of his free solo of Half-Dome.

Example sentence from ODO using to gain glory in a similar way:

"‘One can't help but suspect that the motive behind the Italian researcher's efforts is rooted in gaining glory and renown rather than altruism.’"


1 "Glory Meaning in the Cambridge English Dictionary." Cambridge Dictionary. Accessed March 26, 2018. https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/glory.

2 "Glory | Definition of Glory in English by Oxford Dictionaries." Oxford Dictionaries | English. Accessed March 26, 2018. https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/glory.

  • I don't really believe that "glory" fits very well in this situation. In fact - I'm not sure there are very many ways to correctly use "glory" in modern English. Likewise...trying to fit "great admiration" or "honour" - into that place...also does not sound correct.
    – RickyBobby
    Commented Apr 1, 2018 at 5:08

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