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In the page of 'perception' from Cambridge Dictionary, there's such a sentence as follows.

He's not known for his perception.

The perception here means (according to Cambridge Dictionary)

someone's ability to notice and understand things that are not obvious to other people.

The meaning of the sentence is kind of vague to me. I can come up with 2 different understandings of this same sentence:

  1. He has little perception.
  2. He has good perception, but somehow, his good perception is unknown to others.

Which is correct? What does the sentence mean?

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    It is simply a way of saying "bad at XX". English has a LOT of confusing, indeed stupid, double-negatives, sarcastic-positives, strange first person usages, and so on.
    – Fattie
    Nov 11, 2022 at 21:55
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    English is not known for its logic and consistency. ;-) Nov 13, 2022 at 8:37
  • That seems like a terrible example sentence, because pretty much all it tells you is that it's an ability someone has. You can substitute any other ability in there and the sentence would be equally valid. It reminds me of a spelling bee sketch where the judge using the word in a sentence just says something like "I have an X".
    – NotThatGuy
    Nov 14, 2022 at 3:39

4 Answers 4

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In this context, "X isn't famous for Z" is a sarcastic comment used to insult X for their very low quality Z.

That example sentence could literally mean "He is not famous for his perception", but in almost any context, it actually means, "He has very poor skills of perception".

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    ...unless immediately followed with something else, yes. "Churchill is not known for his journalism, but in fact he built his early career on it."
    – fectin
    Nov 11, 2022 at 19:33
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It’s a humorous understatement. The implication is that the person is famous for the opposite. Some of the other top hits on Google Books:

Jonah is not known for his obedience. In fact, he is remembered for his disobedience. The prophet deliberately chose not to follow the directives of God.

Michelangelo, who is not known for his optimism, was entirely confident in predicting that Clement’s election to the Papacy signaled great things for the arts.

Nietzsche, indeed, is not known for his untroubled psyche.

“My brother is not known for his intelligence.” Cassio glared at his sister and I fought the urge to laugh. I must be going crazy already if I could find humor in my current predicament.

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This is an example of litotes, or "ironic understatement". As others have noted, the meaning is best understood by negating the phrase, so "not known for his perception" becomes "known for not having perception".

Ironic understatement is a feature of British English, more so than in American English - this difference is perhaps typified by the following exchange

After two days' fighting, an American, Major General Robert H. Soule, asked the British brigadier, Thomas Brodie: "How are the Glosters doing?" The brigadier, with English understatement, replied: "A bit sticky, things are pretty sticky down there." To American ears, this did not sound desperate, and so he ordered them to stand fast.

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A less common usage is where someone is trying to sound a little more polite than they might - in that case the meaning is "that person does not appear to be XX, but I don't know enough to make a definitive judgement."

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