famous - opposite?

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Senordineroman

Senior Member
USA English - Midwest
I can't believe I'm an ESL teacher and I'm asking this question. What is an antonym for famous? Doesn't "infamous (pronounced IN-fa-mous) mean very famous? None of the other negating prefixes seem to work - "nonfamous, unfamous...".

I'm thinking of just going with "unpopular". The question for my students is, "Make a list of the good things and bad things about being an __________ musician."
 
  • marget

    Senior Member
    I can't believe I'm an ESL teacher and I'm asking this question. What is an antonym for famous? Doesn't "infamous (pronounced IN-fa-mous) mean very famous? None of the other negating prefixes seem to work - "nonfamous, unfamous...".

    I'm thinking of just going with "unpopular". The question for my students is, "Make a list of the good things and bad things about being an __________ musician."
    Would little-known work?
     

    dijw

    Member
    US/English
    I would say unknown, or maybe in the context of speaking about an artist, undiscovered.

    Infamous is used for something well known for some negative reason.

    Good luck

    Denise
     

    nichec

    Senior Member
    Chinese(Taiwan)/English(AE)
    I would say unknown, or maybe in the context of speaking about an artist, undiscovered.

    Infamous is used for something well known for some negative reason.

    Good luck

    Denise
    I like "unknown", and how about "unsuccessful"?
     

    jdenson

    Senior Member
    USA / English
    I can't believe I'm an ESL teacher and I'm asking this question. What is an antonym for famous? Doesn't "infamous (pronounced IN-fa-mous) mean very famous? None of the other negating prefixes seem to work - "nonfamous, unfamous...".

    I'm thinking of just going with "unpopular". The question for my students is, "Make a list of the good things and bad things about being an __________ musician."
    I think that "unknown" works best here.
    Infamous - having an exceedingly bad reputation; "a notorious gangster"; the tenderloin district was notorious for vice (from the WR Dictionary)
    JD
     

    Trisia

    Senior Member
    Romanian
    I like "unsuccessful" but "obscure" also seems great.

    Oh, and, to the best of my knowledge, "infamous" means very famous, but in a bad way.
     

    mplsray

    Senior Member
    I can't believe I'm an ESL teacher and I'm asking this question. What is an antonym for famous? Doesn't "infamous (pronounced IN-fa-mous) mean very famous? None of the other negating prefixes seem to work - "nonfamous, unfamous...".

    I'm thinking of just going with "unpopular". The question for my students is, "Make a list of the good things and bad things about being an __________ musician."
    I would like to point out that infamous is indeed an antonym to famous, just not one with the meaning you had in mind. One is famous for having done something the speaker is in favor of and infamous for doing something which the speaker is against. The word goes back to Latin infamis, meaning "without (good) fame" (source: The Century Dictionary).
     

    nexpyru

    New Member
    Spanish - Madrid
    I can't believe I'm an ESL teacher and I'm asking this question. What is an antonym for famous? Doesn't "infamous (pronounced IN-fa-mous) mean very famous? None of the other negating prefixes seem to work - "nonfamous, unfamous...".

    I'm thinking of just going with "unpopular". The question for my students is, "Make a list of the good things and bad things about being an __________ musician."
    In this context, the best choice would be "anonymous", although "unknown" also works fine. "Unpopular" means something completely different (an "unpopular musician" being someone whose music most people dislike) "Infamous", as Mplsray correctly pointed out, actually means someone or something who is widely known for being evil ("the infamous Adolf Hitler" or "the infamous Inquisition")
     

    Senordineroman

    Senior Member
    USA English - Midwest
    Well yeah. That's true. Rank-and-file could be opposite of "famous", but..... hm. Does "rank-and-file" refer to the normal, everyday people that work in a certain institution, though?

    Interesting..........
     
    Well yeah. That's true. Rank-and-file could be opposite of "famous", but..... hm. Does "rank-and-file" refer to the normal, everyday people that work in a certain institution, though?

    Interesting..........
    E.g.: "rank-and-file" party activists rather than the heads of one. The example has been taken from our Soviet past :). By the way, "rank-and-file" seems to me synonymous with "ordinary", which can also replace the antonym of "famous" sometimes. Another word is "common" but it sounds more humiliating than "ordinary" when used to talk about people.
     

    spatula

    Senior Member
    English - London (Irish ethnicity)
    I don't think words such as 'unpopular', 'unsuccessful', 'a nobody' or 'obscure' are right at all. And absolutely not 'infamous'. Just because a musician may not be high-profile does not mean s/he's not popular or successful. It could be a session musician for example, who's happy not being in the limelight; an unsung hero if you will (no pun intended!).

    The best suggested so far have to be 'little-known', 'unknown' or 'anonymous'.
     
    I don't think words such as 'unpopular', 'unsuccessful', 'a nobody' or 'obscure' are right at all. And absolutely not 'infamous'. Just because a musician may not be high-profile does not mean s/he's not popular or successful. It could be a session musician for example, who's happy not being in the limelight; an unsung hero if you will (no pun intended!).

    The best suggested so far have to be 'little-known', 'unknown' or 'anonymous'.
    As far as I am aware, "anonymous" is more about someone who tries to hide their results, achievements or even heroic deeds from others. That is, they do it intentionally. But maybe we need a word describing a person who is just not very famous but not because they have always tried to conceal it from others but because either other people are better or because one is unsuccessful. Sometimes, however, indeed a person may die having created something outstanding, years have passed and descendants observe a masterpiece but do not know its great creator.
     

    spatula

    Senior Member
    English - London (Irish ethnicity)
    As far as I am aware, "anonymous" is more about someone who tries to hide their results, achievements or even heroic deeds from others. That is, they do it intentionally. But maybe we need a word describing a person who is just not very famous but not because they have always tried to conceal it from others but because either other people are better or because one is unsuccessful. Sometimes, however, indeed a person may die having created something outstanding, years have passed and descendants observe a masterpiece but do not know its great creator.
    You're right Dmitry, 'anonymous' does perhaps have this slant (but not exclusively I would argue). Perhaps we could find out the context in order to offer better suggestions. Is it intended to be an impartial description of the musician's non-celebrity status, or loaded to be either positive or negative? Is it a description which the musician would happily give themselves that you need? Has the musician shunned fame deliberately?
     

    Sepia

    Senior Member
    High German/Danish
    I must strongly object to "unsucessful" as antonym to "famous". How on Earth did anyone get that idea? Everybody who is famous is successfull, thus who is not famous is has no success, ist that it? As if the only kind of success worth striving for included being famous. There is probably lots and lots of people that are highly succssful and completely unknown to the general public. Even in highly visible arts like pop music.
     
    I must strongly object to "unsucessful" as antonym to "famous". How on Earth did anyone get that idea? Everybody who is famous is successfull, thus who is not famous is has no success, ist that it? As if the only kind of success worth striving for included being famous. There is probably lots and lots of people that are highly succssful and completely unknown to the general public. Even in highly visible arts like pop music.
    As far as I am concerned, I agree that "unsuccessful" can be a synonym for "someone who is not famous". Yes, sometimes people are not famous for some of their achievements but at the same time they are well-to-do (affluent, solvent) because they earn enough, have families, cars, luxurious cottages, etc. The other situation is when they are not famous and hence unsuccessful because, for example, they consider themselves so since they have not achieved the objectives they have set themselves. These two are possible!!!
     

    spatula

    Senior Member
    English - London (Irish ethnicity)
    As far as I am concerned, I agree that "unsuccessful" can be a synonym for "someone who is not famous". Yes, sometimes people are not famous for some of their achievements but at the same time they are well-to-do (affluent, solvent) because they earn enough, have families, cars, luxurious cottages, etc. The other situation is when they are not famous and hence unsuccessful because, for example, they consider themselves so since they have not achieved the objectives they have set themselves. These two are possible!!!
    Absolutely not. I am not famous Dmitry, yet does that automatically mean that I am unsuccessful also? This is wrong!
     

    spatula

    Senior Member
    English - London (Irish ethnicity)
    No, it does not. But it can mean this and I have written about this possibility above.
    Ok. I'm in danger of getting into a debate off-topic regarding the vacuous views of fame being a symbol of success, so I'll quit while I still can! I'd welcome some more context to know the intention behind the question in order to get back on track....
     

    Pedro y La Torre

    Senior Member
    English (Ireland)
    As far as I am concerned, I agree that "unsuccessful" can be a synonym for "someone who is not famous". Yes, sometimes people are not famous for some of their achievements but at the same time they are well-to-do (affluent, solvent) because they earn enough, have families, cars, luxurious cottages, etc. The other situation is when they are not famous and hence unsuccessful because, for example, they consider themselves so since they have not achieved the objectives they have set themselves. These two are possible!!!
    With the greatest of respect, this is completely and utterly ridiculous.

    Unsuccessful is not, and cannot be, an antonym of famous.
     
    The primary meaning of "successful" is to achieve what one is striving for. That can be done in complete privacy. Successful isn't a synonym for "Famous", so "unsuccessful" can't be its antonym.

    To my mind, "famous" is a synonym for "(very) well known", so "unknown" is the best antonym.
     

    LV4-26

    Senior Member
    I agree with those who say we need more context. I think we're having a problem, not so much with the adjective as with the noun.
    What sort of musician are we talking about? A classical musican, a pop musician, an instrumentist, a singer, a composer?

    For many people, a pop musician must appear on TV to be considered famous. I'm not sure the same criterium applies to classical musicians.

    With the little info available, I'm looking for an adjective that would mean "not in the limelight". The problem is am I the only one? In other words, are we all searching in the same direction?

    In the absence of a better option, my preference goes to little-known.
     

    sasmith

    Member
    British English
    Reading this, I'm quickly coming to the conclusion that the only true antonym for 'famous' is 'not famous'.

    As other's have said it certainly isn't 'infamous' (well, it is, but in a different context)
    'Anonymous' and 'unknown' are possibilities depending on the meaning required, but in many circumstances wouldn't be ideal.
    It most definitely isn't 'unsuccessful' - someone could even be famous for being unsuccessful
     

    spatula

    Senior Member
    English - London (Irish ethnicity)
    I agree, but how do you fit it into the original sentence?
    I agree with everything you said in post 25. My advice would be not to try to shoehorn in a word that we can't even agree on (;)) just in order to retain the original structure of the sentence. With no more direction or context forthcoming, I still think 'little-known' or 'unknown' are the best bets. Not great though.
     

    nexpyru

    New Member
    Spanish - Madrid
    As far as I am aware, "anonymous" is more about someone who tries to hide their results, achievements or even heroic deeds from others.
    Not really. In that context, it just means we don't know the name of the author ("Anonymous" comes from greek "onimus" -name- and "an" -without-) without any information regarding "intention"

    In the original context, though, it works perfectly, because an "anonymous musician" is a "not famous" musician. As I said, "unknown" would also work, but i don't like it because it is not so specific ("not famous" means some people could actually know about the musician, just not so many people, while "unknown" would rather mean close to nobody knows him/her)

    As already pointed out by Pedro y La Torre and Sasmith "unsuccessful" could NEVER be an antonym for "famous"

    "Not renowned" is indeed an option, because "renowned" is a synonym for "famous", but it doesn't fit in the original sentence (and, anyway, I don't like it. It would be just too easy if we were to get an antonym just by writing "not" before the actual word, wouldn't it)

    "Obscure" is another good option, but in the original sentence it could be mistaken for a muscian whose work is "hard to understand"

    Recap: "Anonymous" is the word. Second best: "Obscure", "Unknown"
     

    Arkalai

    Senior Member
    English- British
    Infamous is used for something well known for some negative reason.
    This is true, so as it's been pointed out, not the word you're looking for.
    My suggestions are unheard of, less well-known - you might also consider unnotable and insignificant, but these seem a bit demeaning.
     
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    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    Undiscovered? Famous do not necessarily mean "high quality", just that many people are aware of the person who has fame. Undiscovered similarly doesn't predict "high quality" just that no-one knows about this person yet. Think of William Hung :D Very famous, lousy singer. He was undiscovered before American Idol, famous as a result of being "bad"!!!

    I think an anonymous person can be famous, it's just that no-one knows the person's identity - think of (the Washington informer) Deep Throat. Success is irrelevant too.
     

    LV4-26

    Senior Member
    The problem I'm having with unknown is that, for some reason, I sense an atmosphere of mistery or fantasy around it (The unknown land, the unknown soldier, the unknown ranger come to my mind), that sort of interferes with the neutral message we need to convey here.
    This must be why, from the start, I've always preferred little known.
    Incidentally, it is interesting to note that, basically, all the terms that didn't seem to fit had this in common that they weren't neutral enough.

    However, if you natives do not get the same impression, I can just forget it. :)
    (take this as a question rather than an opinion).
     
    Last edited:

    Ann O'Rack

    Senior Member
    UK
    UK English
    I think "unknown" would fit well, in the given sentence, and in this instance doesn't have any hint of mystery.

    I particularly like "undiscovered", even if it's not the best option in this instance, for its sense of optimism and its hint that here is a brilliant musician who will be famous once he's been discovered!
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    Shadowy and sub rosa come to mind.

    I'm often amused by the police (or news media) when they refer to "un-named sources". Someone gave birth and failed to name their offspring?
     
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