"infamous" = celebrated

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Thu Apr 27 21:54:13 UTC 2006

Of Herman Melville during the Civil War, Prof. Paul R. Cappucci writes :

  "Like many others, Melville also knew participants in the war.  Among the many friends and relatives who served were Toby Greene (the infamous Toby) and his cousin Henry Gansevoort."

   ("Down from the Crow's Nest: Herman Melville's _Battle-Pieces and Aspects of the War_," _War, Literature & the Arts_ 17 [2005],  164-65.)

  Toby Greene is "infamous," so far as I recall, not because he accompanied young Herman when the latter deserted the whaler _Acushnet_ but because, recognizing himself as a character in Melville's _Typee_ , he wrote to the author and the two resumed their old friendship by mail.

  "Famous for being famous," but "famous" nonetheless.


Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU> wrote:
  ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
Sender: American Dialect Society
Poster: Laurence Horn
Subject: Re: "infamous" = celebrated

At 6:31 AM -0800 3/14/06, Jonathan Lighter wrote:
>How, ye of little faith, explain ye this ?:
> "To mark National Science Week, past winners of the most infamous
>prize in academia are touring the country to explain, among other
>things, the logic of making locusts watch repeated highlights of
>Star Wars and how ostriches fancy humans."
> http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/4801670.stm (Today's BBC News.)
> No, not the bugs and birds; I mean how do you explain "infamous"
>if not as a synonym for the now soooooo-boring "famous" ? (Earlier
>discussion addressed the possibility that this "infamous" might only
>apply to celebrities or media things.)
> The transformation appears to be complete. Let the Kaos begin !
You'll recall our discussion of this particular "infamous" cite of
Jon's, which we (most of us, anyway) agreed was within the pale
because the IgNobels really are awarded for meretricious, rather than
just plain meritorious, accomplishments in science. But there is
definitely a widening or bleaching of "infamous" oozing our around
the edges. A student essay I was reading this week referred to
Labov's "infamous Divergence Hypothesis" for AAVE/SAE, meaning (as
far as I can tell) well-known but controversial. It's not quite a
simple synonym of "famous" yet, but it ain't what it used to be


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