‘Widely but unfavourably known’ is the common definition for notorious. Just as a notorious liar is well-known for unreliable statements, so a notorious gambler, a notorious thief, or a notorious killer has achieved a wide reputation for some form of antisocial behaviour. The noun is notoriety.
The derivation is from Latin notus, known, from which we also get noted. It is an interesting characteristic of some words that a change of syllables can alter the emotional impact. Thus, an admirer of certain business executives will speak of them as ‘noted industrialists’; these same people’s enemies will call them ‘notorious exploiters’. Similarly, if we admire a man’s or a woman’s unworldliness, we refer to it by the complimentary term childlike; but if we are annoyed by the trait, we describe it, derogatively, as childish. Change ‘-like’ to ‘-ish’ and our emotional tone undergoes a complete reversal.
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