Infamous Does Not Mean "Really Famous"
It seems that these days misspellings, misunderstandings of words, and incorrect grammar are increasingly used in our current vernacular. There is evidence on street signs and on the Internet. We hear them on television. Even journalists, who are supposed to be educated, fall prey to these inaccuracies.
No one is immune, but I hope to help quell the epidemic just a bit in this magazine, month by month.
Those who misspell and misunderstand – which are almost all of us some of the time – are, nevertheless, intelligent people. However, the better our speech and the more correct our written words, the better our chances for better professions, the acquisition of scholarships, and the enhancement of our educations.
A few months ago, I heard a journalist mention the celebrity Brad Pitt – who was starring in a newly released film – and describe him as “infamous.”
By context, it was clear that she had meant “excessively famous.”
It reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend here in Gettysburg a few years ago. Attending a local book signing, she met with an author-historian at Gettysburg National Park, who was signing her newest book.
My friend went up to her and called her “infamous”. The poor author was taken aback.
When I explained that my friend had insulted the author, she was aghast. “Doesn’t infamous mean really famous?” she asked.
Taking the meaning in context, it is understandable that this mistake was made. (Words like invaluable and innumerable come to mind.) But this isn't the case for the word infamous.
Famous is the adjective for the noun fame . Infamous is the adjective for the noun infamy .
Though they sound synonymous, they have almost opposite definitions.
President Roosevelt correctly used the word “infamy” to describe the disastrous attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
The word infamous is defined as “ causing great horror and dread at the mention of the name or act .” Intense dislike also follows those who earn the reputation for being infamous.
So, Hitler would definitely be considered infamous. Attila the Hun was infamous.
Film celebrities, usually, are not. Neither are most authors present at Gettysburg book signing events.
Please spread the word!