Famous vs. Infamous
I have long bewailed the misuse of the word famous to apply to bad people, reminding readers that the word for widely known people of ill repute is infamous.
Now I’ve discovered that not only is famous erroneously applied to gangsters and murderers, but now the word infamous is being flung about as if it meant noted or simply, known.
The site that brought this latest misuse to my attention features a slideshow about male celebrities who are shorter than average. Each slide provides information under the following headings:
Date of Birth
Number of Children
One or two of the celebrities are “infamous for” cocaine use, but the information that appears under the “infamous” heading for the others is nothing to be ashamed of. Here are a few examples of the behavior labeled infamous on this site:
was a dishwasher once
was the son of scientists
sometimes hides his hand in his pocket to conceal its trembling
wears thick black horn-rimmed glasses
worked in a beauty salon after high school
was godfather to another celebrity’s children
These acts hardly fit the OED definition of infamous:
Of ill fame or repute; famed or notorious for badness of any kind; notoriously evil, wicked, or vile; held in infamy or public disgrace.
Here, for example, are some infamous people noted for their infamous acts:
Ivan the Terrible
Jack the Ripper
Tomas de Torquemada
Actions that warrant the description of infamous include: burning people to death, performing surgical experiments on conscious children, blinding your architects, boiling your treasurer–that kind of thing.
The preoccupation with the celebrity of people–famous or infamous–has coined a new expression: “famous for being famous.”
In the past, the usual way to acquire fame or notoriety was to excel at something, whether writing, acting, or governing. With the advent of self-generated publicity, some people manage to become a focus of public attention for nothing at all. Frequently cited examples of this type of non-fame are: the Kardashian sisters, Paris Hilton, Kato Kaelin, Heidi Montag, Kelly Osbourne, and Ivanka Trump.
Here are some words other than famous or infamous that may be used to describe a well-known person:
Most of these words are applicable to people known for doing commendable things. The other kind of people are perhaps best ignored as much as possible.
Famous and Infamous on Newspapers
Monsanto to ditch its infamous name after sale to Bayer (www.theguardian.com)
… — Syrian Kurdish fighters have detained two British men infamous for their role in the Islamic State’s imprisonment, torture and killing of Western hostages, according to Am … (www.nytimes.com)
… on Broadway’s least-discovered northern stretch.Broadway is arguably the most famous thoroughfare in the world (by one measure, 250 million hits on Google versus 6 million for the Champs-Élysées) … (www.nytimes.com)
“Famous Doesn’t Apply to Murderers or Gangsters”
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