Are you after fame or notoriety?

Many words have been misused so often that their meanings have started to blur – and writers who should know better start using the wrong words in the wrong places.

A recent national magazine article reported that a particular musician had earned his notoriety by producing a couple albums. In this case, “notoriety” was the wrong word – unless those albums were absolutely horrible.

Today, many people mistakenly believe that “notoriety” is synonymous with “fame.” Actually, there’s a huge distinction between the two. Fame is something you earn by doing good, positive, impressive things. Notoriety comes to you when you do something bad – ideally, something truly evil or sinister. Tom Hanks is famous. Harvey Weinstein is notorious. John Dillinger earned his notoriety by robbing banks, while Elliot Ness gained his fame by arresting criminals.

Similar rules apply to “famous” and “infamous.” If you’re famous, people look up to you. If you’re infamous, you’re equally notable, but for the wrong reasons. Precise language is always more powerful.

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