Word Confusion: Famous vs Infamous vs Notorious

Posted August 25, 2014 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Editing, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

Yeah, I was surprised when I read that Madonna was infamous. I suppose that, yeah, she could be considered wicked and bad, but I must confess, I’m more inclined to see people like Hitler and Pol Pot as infamous more than some celebrity.

Notorious was added 7 November 2016 and is similar to infamous.

Word Confusions…

…started as my way of dealing with a professional frustration with properly spelled words that were out of context in manuscripts I was editing as well as books I was reviewing. It evolved into a sharing of information with y’all. I’m hoping you’ll share with us words that have been a bête noir for you from either end.

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Famous Infamous Notorious
Credit to: Apple Dictionary.com

Image by Wally Gobetz (http://www.flickr.com/photos/wallyg/163324108/) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Nathan’s Famous original hot dog stand on Coney Island, New York.

Image courtesy of “Andersonville National Historic Site” on Wikipedia

During the Civil War in America, Andersonville was infamous for how poorly its prisoners were treated. This man is a “Union Army soldier on his release from Andersonville in May 1865”.

Portrait of Cesare Borgia

“Cesare Borgia” was painted by Altobello Melone and is in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Borgia was notorious for being the illegitimate son of a cardinal and his mistress.

Part of Grammar:
Adjective Adjective Adjective
Known about by many people

  • Having a widespread reputation, usually of a favorable nature
  • Renowned
  • Celebrated

[Informal] First-rate; excellent

[Pejorative] Notorious

Well known for some bad quality or deed on a wide scale for how bad they are

  • Wicked; abominable
  • Having an extremely bad reputation
  • [Historical Law; of a person] Deprived of all or some citizens’ rights as a consequence of conviction for a serious crime

Deserving of or causing an evil reputation; shamefully malign


Famous or well known, typically for some bad quality or deed
The country is famous for its natural beauty.

Ben Affleck is a famous star.

Hemingway is a famous writer.

Some famous people include Marie Curie, Henry Ford, Julie Andrews, etc.

Woodstock was a famous performance event.

Grouch Marx’s famous last words were: “This is no way to live!”

Eichmann is an infamous war criminal.

The medical council disqualified him for infamous misconduct.

Some infamous people include Paris Hilton, Ned Kelly, Saddam Hussein, Hitler, etc.

The My Lai massacre was an infamous war atrocity.

Enron became infamous for its accounting practices.

Los Angeles is notorious for its smog.

He was a notorious drinker and womanizer.

Tom Horn was notorious as one of the most cold-blooded killers of the Wild West.

Adjective: overfamous, prefamous
Adverb: famously, prefamously
Noun: famousness
Adverb: infamously
Noun: infamousness
Adverb: notoriously
Noun: notoriousness
History of the Word:
Late Middle English from the Old French fameus, which is from the Latin famosus meaning famed, from fama. Late Middle English from medieval Latin infamosus, which is from the Latin infamis and based on fama, meaning fame. Late 15th century in the sense of generally known, from the medieval Latin notorius from the Latin notus meaning known + -ous.

C’mon, get it out of your system, bitch, whine, moan…which words are your pet peeves? Also, please note that I try to be as accurate as I can, but mistakes happen or I miss something. Email me if you find errors, so I can fix them…and we’ll all benefit!

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Pinterest Photo Credits:

Milli Vanilli” is a photo by Alan Light and “Mr Bean at Goodwood” by Nathan Wong (Flickr) are both under the CC BY 2.0 license; the “Pruitt-Igoe Housing Project Demolished“, 1972, by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of Policy Development and Research (Creating Defensible Space) was regarded as one of the most infamous failures of public housing in American history and is in the public domain. All are via Wikimedia Commons.