Commonly Misused Words: Notorious

January 10, 2008: Issue 221

In the crush of press coverage leading up to the Iowa caucuses last week, one national news outlet asserted that a certain candidate was banking on his rivals’ attacks backfiring in “notoriously friendly Iowa.”

We might be friendly people, but we can’t be notoriously so; that’s an oxymoron. Notorious means unfavorably known:
notoriously persistent campaign workers
notoriously cold Iowa winters
(or, if you’re a pollster) notoriously unpredictable Iowa voters

When you’re talking about recognition based on positive attributes, stick with famous and synonyms such asrenowned and celebrated.

Yes, they’re still touring: Check out Duran Duran performing “Notorious” this past fall in New York City.Simon Le Bon sounds just as good as he ever did.

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