When you are famous, you are always the target of gossip, curiosity, and ridicule. We call that “yu-umei-zei - 有名税” in Japanese, for which the literal translation is “tax (imposed) on being famous.”

It sounds somewhat akin to the Japanese proverb, “the nail that pops up is always hammered down.” I posted a question about an English equivalent long before, but they are quite different in meaning. The former means acceptance of cost / disadvantages of being famous, the latter means an admonition not to be too conspicuous among peers. It’s also different from “noblesse oblige.”

When a politician, famous actress, singer, football player, or whoever famous makes a gaffe which would be taken for granted if it was done by an average citizen, it is picked up in TVs and newspapers hyperbolically, and people make a fuss by attributing it to “yu-umei-zei - tax on the famous.”

Are there English equivalents in a short word to “yu-umei-zei” which comes up as only three characters in Japanese?

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    Direct translation is: Price of fame. And voila!
    – ermanen
    Commented May 24, 2014 at 0:22
  • Interesting that the literal translation of 有名税 is "have name tax"—that is, a tax on those who have names.
    – wchargin
    Commented May 24, 2014 at 4:42
  • 1
    That's because in Japanese (and Chinese), 有名 is used idiomatically to mean "to be famous." It is such a common usage that some dictionaries give it as the literal definition. Commented May 24, 2014 at 6:50
  • 2
    @WChargin That's actually not a literal translation. 名 has several meanings, ‘name’ (though the most basic and original one) being just one. It also means ‘reputation’ (just like name in English can) or ‘fame’, among others. To have 名 uses the noun in the latter sense, so the meaning ‘famous’ is quite straightforward and logical, really. Commented May 24, 2014 at 11:15
  • WChargin. In Japanese (and in Chinese), 有名 (and 著名) means simply ‘famous.’ It’s one word as an adjective or noun. I don’t know the case 有名 being used in the sense of ‘have a name.’ Although the character, 有 means ‘exist’ (have in Chinese), and 名 means ‘name’ indivudually, they are unlikely used in verb + noun form both in Japanese and Chinese language as you parse Commented May 24, 2014 at 22:36

5 Answers 5


We say "the price of fame".

In an article with that title in Psychology Today, 9/1/1998, Raj Persaud wrote:

The constant attention that comes with fame inflates some celebrities' egos. For others though, the effect is the reverse: it makes them so aware of their shortcomings that they may be driven to self-destruction.

Mark Schaller, Ph.D., of the University of British Columbia, has surveyed the works of songwriters Kurt Cobain and Cole Porter and of writer John Cheever to see how often they used the first person singular. With each man, the rate of self-reference jumped after he became famous.

Schaller theorizes that the relentless scrutiny of fans and the media leads some celebrities to become acutely self-conscious. Some develop "impostor syndrome," he observes. "They think to themselves, 'I know that I'm not as great as they think I am.'"

The need to escape this agonizing self-awareness may lead some famous people into alcoholism, drug abuse, or compulsive sexuality, says Schaller. Porter and Cheever were both alcoholics. Using journals and letters, Schaller has found that Cheever's battles with alcohol apparently followed the periods of his greatest renown.

As for Cobain, the leader of Nirvana was addicted to heroin and ultimately killed himself with a shotgun. "Suicide has been called 'the ultimate escape from self-awareness,'" Schaller notes.

The phrase goes back to at least 1743, when "a Student of Oxford" (the Oxford Professor of Poetry Robert Lowth, a notable scholar of Hebrew literature, and author of the most influential English grammar text of the 18th-century) wrote

Who seeks [honor] must the mighty cost sustain,
And pay the price of Fame; labor, and care and pain.

  • +1 Midori J-E dictionary also has "the price of fame" listed as one of the definitions - along with "noblesse oblige" but I'm not even sure what that means...
    – Mou某
    Commented May 24, 2014 at 10:42
  • @user3306356: Noblesse oblige is a French phrase meaning nobility obliges: that is, status imposes obligations, a nobleman is required to observe certain standards of conduct ... and now I see that you looked it up. Kudos! Commented May 24, 2014 at 20:18

Fairly commonly used is 'The price of fame.'


You can talk about the curse of fame

you might also talk about:

the merciless public eye
or that's what you get for being in the spotlight


Tall Poppy Syndrome

Tall poppy syndrome (TPS) is a pejorative term primarily used in the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and other Anglosphere nations to describe a social phenomenon in which people of genuine merit are resented, attacked, cut down, or criticised because their talents or achievements elevate them above or distinguish them from their peers.

  • No, this term applies for the OP's previous question but not this one. "The price of fame" is not the same as the "tall poppy syndrome". Famous people are not the only tall poppies. Tall poppies are equivalent to the nails that pop up in the older question. Commented May 25, 2014 at 11:45

As I wrote in the comments of StoneyB's answer

Midori J-E Dictionary has two definitions:

  1. price of fame

  2. Noblesse oblige

from wikipedia:

Noblesse oblige is a French phrase literally meaning "nobility obliges". It is the concept that nobility extends beyond mere entitlements and requires the person with such status to fulfill social responsibilities, particularly in leadership roles.

The Dictionnaire de l’Académie française defines it thus:

Whoever claims to be noble must conduct himself nobly.

(Figuratively) One must act in a fashion that conforms to one's position, and with the reputation that one has earned.

The Oxford English Dictionary meanwhile says that the term "suggests noble ancestry constrains to honorable behavior; privilege entails to responsibility."


"Noblesse oblige" is generally used to imply that with wealth, power, and prestige come responsibilities. In American English especially, the term is sometimes applied more broadly to suggest a general obligation for the more fortunate to help the less fortunate.[citation needed]

In ethical discussion, it is sometimes used to summarize a moral economy wherein privilege must be balanced by duty towards those who lack such privilege or who cannot perform such duty. Finally, it has been used recently primarily to refer to public responsibilities of the rich, famous and powerful, notably to provide good examples of behaviour or to exceed minimal standards of decency. It has also been used to describe a person taking the blame for something in order to solve an issue or save someone else.

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