Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Ill-gotten fame

Being notorious takes more than being well-known. You have to be well-known in an unfavorable light.

The Online Etymology Dictionary says the word dates to 1548 and has had a negative connotation since the 17th century "from frequent association with derogatory nouns."

WRONG: "He always watched out for his family and others. He was notorious for helping."
RIGHT: "He was notorious for killing entire families because of the transgressions of a single member."

Less often confused is infamous, which requires a bad reputation.

Infamous has its negative connotation from its infancy in the 14th century.

WRONG: "I always have a good time at Jeff's charity functions. Last year's ball was infamous."
RIGHT: "The cops will no doubt show up soon. Jeff's charity functions are infamous for devolving into drunken brawls."


At 12:47 PM, September 26, 2006, Anonymous Michael Lee said...

Don't forget "notoriety," which has the same negative connotation as "notorious" and is misused perhaps even more often.

At 11:09 AM, October 03, 2006, Blogger Philippe said...

In the right circumstances, I would read "He was notorious for helping" as an implication that his help was less than helpful -- in the manner of a stereotypically controlling mother-in-law, perhaps.


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