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What is the Difference Between Fame and Infamy?

Adolph Hitler is an infamous historical figure.
Marilyn Monroe was famous as a movie star, but infamous for her troubled personal life.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
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  • Last Modified Date: 29 November 2014
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The terms “fame” and “infamy” are sometimes used interchangeably by people who do not fully understand them. In fact, while both suggest widespread knowledge of a person or deed, one has a negative connotation, while the other has a positive one. Learning to use them correctly will help people to avoid embarrassment, and it will also assist people in following conversations about famous or infamous people. In a society where terrible deeds are often rewarded with copious public attention, discerning between fame and infamy will also help people retain perspective.

Fame refers to renown and reputation, or a position of public prominence. Someone can be famous for making a scientific breakthrough, being very skilled at a sport, or producing remarkable art. All of the associations with fame are generally positive, implying the person is respected and honored as well as being famous. To say that someone has fame or is famous is a great compliment. Many people aspire to fame, and should, because it suggests notable deeds.

On the other hand, infamy is a dubious social distinction gained by committing a terrible act. Hitler is infamous, while Churchill is famous. The associations with infamy are negative, suggesting that although someone and his or her actions are well known, many people wish that this was not the case. Well known criminals can be said to have infamy, because although they are famous in the sense of being well known, they have committed deeds of questionable morals to become well known.

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A related concept is the idea of celebrity. Originally, celebrity was used in the same way that “fame” was, and it would have been as incorrect to call someone a celebrity as it would be to call someone a fame. However, the meaning of the word changed, and began to be used to describe people who lived in infamy as well as people who were famous. Criminals and movie stars alike can strive for celebrity status.

The terms can also be used to describe things other than people. A particularly volatile food, for example, might be considered to have infamy, if its intestinal impact is well known. As a general rule, suggesting that someone or something has infamy is considered impolite, as you are indicating a negative association. Calling someone “famous” for committing a terrible act such as mass murder is also inappropriate, because the person has infamy, not fame. Fame implies that someone has become well known for performing good deeds.

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anon240489
Post 3

Just wanted to thank whoever wrote that definition. It probably won't mean much, but I'm appreciative that I didn't have to trawl the internet and various online dictionary to find such a concise and full definition of the exact question I was asking.

oasis11
Post 2

Mutsy-I remember watching the attacks on television and I could not believe what I was seeing. It was a horrific day in our nation’s history that we will never forget.

I believe that infamy has strong negative connotations. For example, Al Capone was infamous and a well known character because he was a professional gangster.

John Gotti was also infamous for the same reason. These men committed heinous crimes and they were famous because of these horrid actions.

Mariah Carrey, on the other hand is a famous singer because of her extraordinary talent and success. She is famous because of her positive skill as a singer and performer.

Dan Thomas was also a famous actor, but he was better known as a philanthropist that established the St. Jude hospital for children.

Here children could receive treatment even if they were unable to pay. Dan Thomas became famous for his acting, but more so for his philanthropic efforts.

mutsy
Post 1

The FDR infamy speech is one of the most famous speeches ever given.

The Roosevelt infamy speech involved the attack of Pearl Harbor. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt stated, “Yesterday, December 7, 1941 - a date which will live in infamy - the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan".

He ended his speech by saying, “I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December seventh, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire.”

This day will be forever remembered for the American lives that were lost as a result of the Japanese attack.

It will be remembered as a somber day in American history much like September 11, 2001 will.

On September 11, 2001, the World Trade Center twin towers were attacked and over three thousands Americans lost their lives. This was seen as the most infamous day in American history in which thousands of American innocent lives were lost.

Unlike the attack of Pearl Harbor, the September 11th attack was a terrorist attack and the terrorists on that day will live in infamy as a result.

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