con·​tume·​ly kän-ˈtü-mə-lē How to pronounce contumely (audio)
 in "Hamlet"  ˈkän-(ˌ)tyüm-lē,
 or  ˈkän-chəm-
plural contumelies
: 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 use in modern English. For example, political columnist Mona Charen expressed the opinion that then-President Bush had not only been criticized by those on the left of the political spectrum, but had "also suffered the contumely of some on the right and of seemingly everyone in the center."

Word History


Middle English contumelie, from Middle French, from Latin contumelia

First Known Use

14th century, in the meaning defined above

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


Dictionary Entries Near contumely

Cite this Entry

“Contumely.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 24 Sep. 2023.

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