I am writing a motivational letter for a university application and I try to decide if I should use the expression world-famous or internationally recognized in a sentence:

...coming from family of internationally recognized doctors and artists...

While I am rather proud of my ancestors I would not want to sound arrogant, and I'm afraid that I don't understand the difference between the expressions mentioned before. Could someone give me a little explanation?

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    Both of them sound arrogant IMO. The achievements of your lineage are theirs, not yours. – Owen C. Jones Jan 14 '15 at 18:16
  • Either means whatever the speaker/writer can convince you it means. There are no standards or qualifications for using the terms. (Using "internationally recognized" gives the speaker an excuse for the fact that you don't know who these people are -- if they say "world-famous" and you don't recognize the names then you start to wonder.) – Hot Licks Jan 14 '15 at 21:08
  • @Owen Well, not saying it's wise to include it (definitely wouldn't work at our faculty), but genes do matter a lot and people from successful families will be likely to be successful (for lots of reasons, genes first and foremost, but also family expectations, less stress due to better financial situations, etc.). – David Mulder Jan 15 '15 at 14:03
  • Thanks you for your comments. The context would have been, how I did not take the paths and follow the professions of my ancestors. – meghatas Nov 30 '15 at 2:51

Internationally recognised is a bit more modest than world-famous in that recognition is milder than fame.

At the same time it's a more significant boast in that we tend only to use recognised about people who are commendable. We would say that Al Capone is world-famous, but not that he's internationally recognised. This is related to the fact that recognised also tends to be used more of the respect someone has in their field, while fame of the more general degree of recognition. There's an implication that people recognised in their field are so because they deserve to be and are judged as such by their peers, while fame is more fickle.

This also means that one can claim to be recognised oneself (or make such a claim about one close to oneself) more reasonably; there are hopefully reasonably objective criteria by which one can make such a claim (awards, invites to speak, professional qualifications) than a claim to fame.

In all, recognised serves better than famous here.

  • Thank you Jon for the quick and detailed response, perfectly clears up my confusion. – meghatas Jan 14 '15 at 14:21
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    While I agree there is a difference between fame and recognition, I don't think it's quite what you state. Fame is definitely used more positively. There is "infamous" or "infamy" to refer to the negative case. – eques Jan 14 '15 at 18:22
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    "Al Capone is internationally recognised as the most prominent crime boss during the Prohibition era." See any problems with that? I dont. – Ajedi32 Jan 14 '15 at 19:54
  • So Al Capone should be world-infamous!? – Pierre Arlaud Jan 15 '15 at 12:48

I wouldn't mention my family. In my opinion it does sound arrogant, no matter how you say it. Instead, I would let my C.V. and bibliography speak for themselves.

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    Reminds me of the story of an American company that asked an applicant's former employer, which was in the UK, for a letter of recommendation. They replied with a letter saying how Mr Smith came from a distinguished family, that his grandfather was a viscount and his uncle an admiral, etc. The American company sent a letter back saying, "Perhaps there has been some misunderstanding. We were considering hiring Mr Smith as an accountant, and not for breeding purposes." – Jay Jan 14 '15 at 15:22
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    @Jay I would wager that is either apocryphal or a very old story. It seems to want to paint the UK as antiquated and archaic; quite typical of American hyperbole! – Lightness Races in Orbit Jan 14 '15 at 16:54
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    I didn't say it was a true story. It's a joke. A joke on the idea that the British judge someone based on his family reputation rather than his individual achievement -- at least that's how American's see it. I'm sure the British have jokes about Americans. – Jay Jan 14 '15 at 19:14
  • This doesn't answer the question. – user53089 Jan 15 '15 at 2:10
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    The question seeks a way not to sound arrogant. While 'internationally recognized' is less boastful, Centaurus answers the question appropriately. – Qsigma Jan 15 '15 at 10:11

IMO, you can keep it simple and yet make a point.

.....family of acclaimed doctors and artists...

....family of distinguished doctors and artists...

(publicly acknowledged as excellent)

Reference: Collins dictionary.

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    This doesn't answer the question about world-famous and internationally-recognised. – Andrew Leach Jan 15 '15 at 7:18
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    But I prefer this elegant and less arrogant-sounding solution. – Mari-Lou A Jan 15 '15 at 11:29

There is some crucial context missing in the question: In which country are you applying? In most English speaking countries, both versions would be way out of line when applying to a renowned university and just plain ridiculous when applying to an insignificant one. (Things may be different in chaotic countries with lots of corruption, so I am going to assume you are applying to a North American, Australian or Central/West European country or one elsewhere with a similar cultural and economic situation.)

I am not claiming that your family background won't play a role in the decision process. If you have a rare last name associated to world famous or filthy rich people, your chances will probably be improved. Though if you make it blatantly clear that you are relying on this advantage you are probably going to ruin this effect. (Except for the 'filthy rich' part. Here a concrete description of how you would bribe them might help in some cases, I suppose.)

If people are not going to recognise you as a member of that family or can't even be expected to know the family, the only thing I can imagine might have a positive effect is subtle hints or casual mentions in the context of something that is actually relevant to your motivation:

"My parents raised me with the goal that I should some day follow the family tradition started by medical scientist Henry Jekyll and horticulturalist Gertrude Jekyll, and become a successful doctor or artist. As my school grades show, I have had other things in mind so far. But at this point in my life I have resolved to actually surpass my wider family's expectations. My ultimate goal would be to devise a genetically engineered organism that causes all the world's rainforests to be replaced by tennis lawns, and find sound artistic justification for actually carrying this through. (Funding will not be an issue.) - Kevin Beau Hyde"


This video of Jay-Z riding the subway explains the difference very well I feel.

The woman in the video doesn't Recognise who he is, but at the end he says he name is "Jay, Jay-Z". Only once he said the "Z" did she know who he was as Jay-Z is World Famous.

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