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Speak good English: Famous, inventor

BY: Eugenia Adjei Mensah

 Last week, we looked at groups of words that have general meanings but cannot be used interchangeably because there are slight differences in meaning which can only fit certain situations and contexts.

So far we have looked at the groups forthcoming/upcoming/impending/imminent, ring/toll and childlike/childish.

We have said we use forthcoming and upcoming for positive things and impending and imminent for unpleasant things.

We use ring when we sound the bell for positive things, such as weddings, church services, etc, and use toll when we sound the bell for negative or unpleasant matters, such as to announce the passing of a person.

We use childlike to describe the positive qualities of a child and use childish to show disapproval when an adult behaves like a child.

Today, we’re looking at the pair of words famous and notorious.

The two words are synonymous in meaning in that they both mean ‘known about by many people in many places’.

But while famous is used for people and places known for positive things, notorious is used for people known for negative things or doing something bad.

So while we write or say famous actors/actresses, landmarks, footballers, explorers, scientists, inventors, philanthropists, etc, we never say notorious inventor, notorious philanthropists, etc.

The right synonyms for famous are:

well-known, celebrated, renowned, eminent, noted and legendary.

As we have said, notorious means well-known for something that is bad or what people will not approve of, such as armed robbery, drunkenness, corruption, bullying, etc.

The best synonym for notorious is infamous.