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Picture of BobHale
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I had a discussion with a colleague today about the word renown. It was prompted by this statement on BBC news this morning in an item about a French murderer. He was referred to in the item as "the renowned French rapist and serial killer"*.

I maintain that this is a wrong usage as renown carries an implication of honour and admiration and that the better word word be "infamous" or perhaps "notorious".

My colleague maintained that "renowned" simply means "famous" and is neutral in terms of implied sentiment.

Some dictionaries were consulted and the same duality appeared. Some defined it as "famous" and others as "honoured".

Anyone got any opinion on this?

(*Of course he might well be renowned in serial killer circles.)


"No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money." Samuel Johnson.
 
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etymologically, it may mean merely fame; in modern usage, acclaim (with honor).
 
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Picture of shufitz
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Bob, I agree with you whole-heartedly.

AHD says simply, "These adjectives mean widely known and esteemed," and lists noted, celebrated, eminent, famed, famous, illustrious, notable, preeminent, renowned.

MW gives the shadings:
    FAMOUS implies little more than the fact of being, sometimes briefly, widely and popularly known
    ILLUSTRIOUS mean known far and wide
    RENOWNED implies more glory and acclamation
    CELEBRATED implies notice and attention especially in print
    NOTED suggests well-deserved public attention
    NOTORIOUS frequently adds to FAMOUS an implication of questionableness or evil
    DISTINGUISHED implies acknowledged excellence or superiority
    EMINENT implies even greater prominence for outstanding quality or character
    ILLUSTRIOUS stresses enduring honor and glory attached to a deed or person
 
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