con·​tume·​ly | \ kän-ˈtü-mə-lē How to pronounce contumely (audio) , kən-, -ˈtyü-; ˈkän-tü-ˌmē-lē, -tyü-ˌ, -chə-ˌ; in "Hamlet" ˈkän-(ˌ)tyüm-lē or ˈkän-chəm- \
plural contumelies

Definition of contumely

: 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."

First Known Use of contumely

14th century, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for contumely

Middle English contumelie, from Middle French, from Latin contumelia

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about contumely

Time Traveler for contumely

Time Traveler

The first known use of contumely was in the 14th century

See more words from the same century

Listen to Our Podcast about contumely

Statistics for contumely

Cite this Entry

“Contumely.” The Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., Accessed 11 December 2019.

More from Merriam-Webster on contumely

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with contumely

Comments on contumely

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


heavy with or as if with moisture

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Semantic Drift Quiz

  • a twisty river
  • Which of the following was once a synonym for fun?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?


Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!