There are two old, occasional misuses that I’ve suddenly noticed cropping up a lot more recently. I’m not sure that it’s a trend — probably just coincidence — but since they’re on my mind I’ll do a couple quick posts about them.
The two misuses are using infamous for famous and using “thanks to” in a negative sense. I’ll cover one today and the other next week.
To show the first problem, take a look at this sample sentence:
They were joined by players from the infamous Harlem Globetrotters.
This use is wrong. Do you, as the writer, intend to highlight the Globetrotters as an infamous team, known for their misdeeds and foul acts? For their negative reputation? No, you don’t. This should be “famous Harlem Globetrotters,” or the phrase should use some other adjective: well-known, renowned, celebrated, etc. (To be fair, this particular use — “infamous Globetrotters” — is out there a lot. I have to suspect that either someone in the Globetrotters press office makes this error deliberately, or unthinking reporters and copyeditors have latched onto the construction and keep repeating it.)
While infamous is sometimes used sarcastically or for humorous effect, it is not a synonym for famous, and shouldn’t be used that way. It is the adjective form of infamy; both words refer to an evil or scandalous history; a shameful or disgraceful reputation; notoriety. (Notorious is another word that’s often misused for famous; it, too, should only be used to indicate a negative kind of fame.)
Some word processor thesauruses suggest that infamous can be used as a simple substitute for famous. If your word processor recommends this, it is wrong. If you use it this way, you will be showing your ignorance.
This one hadn’t made it into GMAU as of the last print edition, but because of the increase in use I’ll be surprised if it isn’t in the next. It will probably debut with a language change index of stage 1 (‘used by a small minority, but rejected by most users’).
While I haven’t given many concrete examples in this post, this misuse of infamous is, sadly, fairly common. Thirty seconds in any search engine will show that. Even more sadly, I’ve come across discussions on the Internet in which people suggest (or even assert) that the words are interchangeable. So far none of these have come from people who actually know what they’re talking about, which is a good sign.
Coming up next…“thanks to” used incorrectly.
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Posting Note: I’ll be offline this week. This post is going up on an automatic schedule, as is the one that will follow it. Please do leave comments, if you have any, but don’t expect a swift response. Thanks!