I have found at least twice the adjective “infamous” used, apparently, to mean “very famous”, rather than its actual, opposite meaning, both times in non-humorous texts:

The first, a historical essay about ancient Spartan lawgiver Lycurgus:

At some point between the late eighth and mid-seventh century BC ... a new constitution came into force in Sparta; known as the Great Rhetra, this constitution was, by the fifth century BC, associated directly with Sparta's infamous lawgiver Lycurgus...

And the second, a popular science article about the Goodyear blimp:

3 June 1925: The infamous Goodyear blimp first flies. These would go on to be a regular part of sporting events in the US.

Is this a new use of the term? Or were those most likely plain oversights?

If it matters, both texts are by British authors.

  • 2
    Can you quote the actual two passages, so we can analyze it from sources?
    – Dan Bron
    Mar 4, 2016 at 14:04
  • Ok, I just checked literally 29 dictionaries and they're all in agreement infamous means of wide, ill, repute, aka notorious. The only glimmer of hope I can see for your two authors (assuming you're reading them right) is TFD records a definition of infamy as "known widely and usually unfavorably". But that's a weak hope indeed.
    – Dan Bron
    Mar 4, 2016 at 14:13
  • You're right about the sources: I'm going to insert them right now.
    – DaG
    Mar 4, 2016 at 14:13
  • 3
    I think a case could be made that Lycurgus was actually infamous, for example, from Wikipedia: "[Lycurgus] was also credited with the development of the agoge. The infamous practice took all healthy seven-year-old boys from the care of their fathers and placed them in a rigorous military regiment". Anyway, for generals and warmongers and other macho men, infamous is often used as a term of approbation. What's better for a macho man than being famously bad? You think Genghis Khan would balk at the label? I tend to agree the usage for the Goodyear blimp is a solecism.
    – Dan Bron
    Mar 4, 2016 at 14:24
  • 2
    The Goodyear Blimp may have been "infamous" in the jaded eye of the cited writer because of its ubiquity in the air above sporting events. In decoding language in context, it's important to be on the lookout for the many faces of irony.
    – Rob_Ster
    Mar 4, 2016 at 17:39

2 Answers 2


I would guess your passages both use infamous in the context of notorious.

Neither the blimp nor the lawmaker were uniformly good. In fact, every time I saw the blimp, I found it to be a distraction and feared the whole thing exploding.

As for Lycurgus, Wikipedia lists him as responsible for the "military-oriented reformation of Spartan society." I would hardly call this virtuous beyond a doubt.

I admit it's a stretch, but the usage of infamous appears to exhibit a pessimistic view of your two examples usually referred to in a positive light. But the authors are taking a minority opinion and apparently drawing a conclusion based on the negatives. As such, neither an oversight nor an alternative usage--just a stretch.

  • 1
    I agree with your analysis of infamous for Lycurgus (as I mentioned in some comments under the question), but I find the defense of that word for the Goodyear Blimp a bit hand-wavey and unconvincing. The GY blimp doesn't broadly suffer from any notoriety or unhappy reputation. If it were the Hindenberg, sure. But I can't see any world in which the description of the GY blimp couldn't be made more accurate by substituting simple "famous" for "infamous". If the author wanted to emphasize the fame, he could have used a less common and therefore more potent synonym, like celebrated.
    – Dan Bron
    Mar 4, 2016 at 14:54
  • Having experienced it at multiple sporting events, I like the word infamous. But more for comedy's sake, like "Ha, ha--look at the stupid blimp. Now go away." Still, I agree, it's a stretch.
    – Stu W
    Mar 4, 2016 at 15:27
  • facebook.com/blimpingainteasy
    – TRomano
    Mar 4, 2016 at 15:27

A person or thing such as the Goodyear Blimp may already be infamous prior to or by the time of writing for reasons other than the benign events currently being described.

Example 1: The infamous John Wayne Gacy painted clowns. Painting clowns is not infamous but Gacy's prior and well known murders are.

Example 2: On 10 April 1912, the infamous Titanic successfully sailed from Southampton, England, to Cherbourg, France, and then Queenstown, Ireland, without issue. At the time of it's sailing the Titanic was famous. Successful sailing did not lead to it's infamy; rather, the Titanic's later sinking after these trips lent to it's infamy at the time of writing.

  • 1
    But is there any negative connotation to the Goodyear Blimp? If not, then your contribution doesn’t answer the question.
    – Scott
    Sep 27, 2018 at 18:39

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