[Ads-l] words connected to a single provenance

Ben Zimmer bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM
Thu Aug 30 11:59:51 EDT 2018

On Thu, Aug 30, 2018 at 10:45 AM, Jacob <jappelbaum123 at gmail.com> wrote:

> On Aug 30, 2018, at 1:10 AM, Geoffrey Nunberg <nunbergg at GMAIL.COM> wrote:
> <snip>
>> My theory is that the spike inhibited the reanalysis of ‘infamous’ as
>> ‘in’ + ‘famous’, with ‘in’ as a kind of intensifying prefix as many people
>> take it to be in ‘inflammable’. (The logic is laid out in a scene from
>> Three Amigos https://is.gd/36xebD). I think it’s unlikely that anyone
>> who is familiar with FDR's use of ‘infamy' would be tempted to assume that
>> ‘infamous’ is other than pejorative. So the spread of the newer usage is a
>> sign that those words, not surprisingly, have been slipping from the
>> collective memory. This isn’t to say that people who don’t make the FDR
>> association will necessarily get ‘infamous’ wrong, but that the diminishing
>> number of ones who do will get it right.
> In an episode of ‘The Office,’ Michael Scott found out that Jim and Pam
> were getting married. In his announcement of the news, he declared that day
> “one which will live in infamy.”

The Michael Scott example (albeit satirical) suggests that those using
"infamy" in a positive sense might be *half*-remembering FDR's usage. For a
non-fictional example, consider Brian Kilmeade's recent invocation on Fox &
Friends, which I tracked down after it was noted by W. Brewer upthread:

"Technical Sergeant John Chapman will live on in infamy for his act on the
battlefield. When your courage and your timber is tested, he stood strong."


The "live on in infamy" phrasing more or less recalls FDR's "date which
will live in infamy," so in this case "infamy" might be reinterpreted as
something like "historical significance (esp. during wartime)."


The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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