I read this sentence on BBC News,

He was among those beaten by police during the infamous Selma-Montgomery voting rights march of 1965.

link: http://archive.is/Wlslv#selection-1355.147-1355.192

As dictionaries I read suggested, Infamous is used for

having an extremely bad reputation


deserving of or causing an evil reputation

It seems to me, the word infamous only can be used to describe a event caused by the bad people, so in this BBC News article, it is the attack on the march being bad (infamous) and the march itself organised by civil rights activists to express a good will is not.

I just lost here, can someone explain it to me why they use infamous here?

  • 1
    But why the march is a bad event?
    – pingz
    Jan 17, 2017 at 3:31
  • 5
    People who are voting to close ought to look at the definitions offered by dictionaries for infamous. If these are correct and the full scope of proper use of the word, then we ought never to say that a victim of a heinous crime is infamous, and yet we do. This is the confusion the OP is asking about, which seems like a reasonable question that is only made worse by basic reference research.
    – 1006a
    Jan 17, 2017 at 7:46
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    I can't see this as on topic at all. As Lambie said, the briefest research shows why infamous doesn't need to have anything to do with the intent of the march. It's irrelevant.
    – Rory Alsop
    Jan 17, 2017 at 14:16
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    @pingz, you should add the definition(s) you've consulted and explain why it makes you think infamous wouldn't be applied to the innocent. I think I understand the cause of your confusion, but you need to make it a bit more explicit to fit the standards of the site.
    – 1006a
    Jan 17, 2017 at 18:04
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    @1006a thx. My thoughts are jumpy and English is not my mother tongue, give me some time, I'll try to improve this question later.
    – pingz
    Jan 18, 2017 at 4:10

2 Answers 2


This is a good question, as dictionary definitions don't generally explain how good people and their well-intended acts can be called infamous for the acts of others.

Ordinarily, someone or something "earns" infamy for doing or being bad or evil, and this is the definition given in most dictionaries1 and suggested by most thesauruses2.

However, in some cases one can become infamous for being the victim of a well-known bad act. Although I haven't been able to find this definition clearly articulated, it's easy to see how the more general definition can lead here. From MacMillan Dictionary:

well known for something bad
an infamous criminal

As with other dictionary entries, the example supports the idea that the infamous person or thing ought to be bad in itself. However, the basic definition lends itself to application to people or things that are famous for bad things that happen to them through no fault of their own. In fact, this usage is somewhat common. For example:

The novel Amalia was inspired by the historical case of [Argentinean dictator Juan Manuel de] Rosas's most infamous victim, Camila O'Gorman. (Lauren Rea, Argentine Serialised Radio Drama in the Infamous Decade, 1930–1943, 2016)

The infamous victim of abuse from her grandfather Josef Fritzl, who kept her in a dungeon in Austria until authorities found her recently, woke from a two-month coma by listening to Robbie Williams songs. ("Robbie Williams wakes Austria dungeon victim", NME, Jun 12, 2008)

The bloody slayings weren’t the only political incursion into those infamous Games. (Paul Hockenos, "An in-depth chronicle of terror at the 1972 Munich Olympics", The National, July 28, 2012)

That last example is very similar to the example in the OP: The 1972 Olympics themselves were intended to be a good thing, but because of an evil, violent attack perpetrated by outsiders they are now described as infamous. Another parallel is that we often use a descriptive and graphic nickname for the event that more directly refers to the evil acts, rather than the underlying event: The attack on the 1972 Olympics is often called "The Munich Massacre", and the attack on the first Selma-Montgomery march is often called "Bloody Sunday".

1 See, for example, Merriam-Webster ("1: having a reputation of the worst kind : notoriously evil 2: causing or bringing infamy : disgraceful"), Oxford Dictionaries ("1. Well known for some bad quality or deed 1.1 Wicked; abominable"), or Dictionary.com ("1. having an extremely bad reputation 2. deserving of or causing an evil reputation; shamefully malign; detestable"). Note that all of these also include a third definition, which is a technical legal definition referring to conviction of certain kinds of crimes and the resultant loss of legal rights. Although some formulations of this definition bear a superficial similarity to civil rights violations, that is not what this definition means. 2 See, e.g., Thesaurus.com.

  • Good answer. There were lots of marches and protests during the civil rights movement, but the Selma march was notable because something bad happened there (to the marchers, at the hands of law enforcement).
    – BradC
    Jan 26, 2017 at 19:37

Infamous is used here because it represents a known event that was disgraceful, scandalous, shocking, etc. It's basically easier to understand this context when you think of it in terms of the opposite (ie. reputable, praiseworthy, admirable) where it would be referring to something good that happened.

If you look it up at http://www.dictionary.com/browse/infamous, note the 3rd entry concerning Law, which could apply to this situation:

3. Law - deprived of certain rights as a citizen, as a consequence of conviction of certain offenses. of or relating to offenses involving such deprivation.

  • 2
    Different words have different ranges. 'infamous' may share some things with 'disgraceful', 'scandalous', 'shocking' but I wouldn't use any of those words in place of 'infamous' to describe the march (I probably wouldn't use infamous either, but am giving BBC the benefit of the doubt that they are referring to bad things that happened around the march itself). Also, the '3. Law' really can't literally apply to the context of the march. What about the march itself was 'deprived of rights as a citizen'?
    – Mitch
    Jan 25, 2017 at 17:15

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