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noun con·tume·ly \kän-ˈtü-mə-lē, kən-, -ˈtyü-; ˈkän-tü-ˌmē-lē, -tyü-ˌ, -chə-ˌ; in “Hamlet” ˈkän-(ˌ)tyüm-lē or ˈkän-chəm-\

Definition of contumely

plural contumelies

  1. :  harsh language or treatment arising from haughtiness and contempt; also :  an instance of such language or treatment

Did You Know?

Geoffrey Chaucer was writing about the sin of contumelie, as it was spelled in Middle English, back in the late 1300s. We borrowed the word from Middle French (whence it had earlier arrived from Latin contumelia), and it has since seen wide literary use. Perhaps its most famous occurrence is in Hamlet's To be or not to be soliloquy:

"For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
Th' oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely...." That's not to say the word has no place today. This past September, for example, political columnist Mona Charen expressed the opinion that President Bush has not only been criticized by those on the left of the political spectrum, but has also suffered the contumely of some on the right and of seemingly everyone in the center."

Origin of contumely

Middle English contumelie, from Middle French, from Latin contumelia

First Known Use: 14th century

Rhymes with contumely

Seen and Heard

What made you want to look up contumely? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


expressing little or no emotion

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