Words: Celebrity

Share
Related Topics
DISGRACED RUGBY player Lawrence Dallaglio was vigorously defended by "celebrity lawyer George Carman QC," I read in my Daily Mail.This had me wondering for a while. Which was the celebrity in the case? Was it the celebrated but disgraced sportsman? There are plenty of divorce lawyers, and copyright lawyers, and lawyers specialising in libel actions, so there's no reason why they shouldn't specialise in celebrities too, such as rugby players and the like. It's an accepted phrase, isn't it?

On the other hand, perhaps it was the lawyer himself who was celebrated. Everyone who reads the papers has heard of George Carman while not all the clients he has represented have been celebrities. And there's our increasingly common tendency to use nouns in place of adjectives. You hardly ever hear or read about "industrial figures", for example; it's always "industry figures". (Who knows, we may even end up calling a doctor or surgeon a medicine man, thus dispensing with the adjective medical). You already hear it said that such-and-such a person "has become a celebrity figure", so there's nothing illogical in calling Mr Carman, in this sense, a celebrity lawyer.

But if that was what the Mail meant, couldn't it just have got rid of the ambiguity by putting celebrated? I think not. The correct term for your highly successful legal man, according to the unwritten style book that every popular newspaper reporter carries in his or her head, is surely eminent. "The celebrated lawyer" sounds outdated and wrong. It did very well in the novels of Dickens and Trollope, and even, until a few decades ago, in the columns of the broadsheet dailies, but it really died when lawyers stopped going about in wing collars and spats.

I had imagined that celebrity, meaning a famous or fashionable person, rather than the fame itself, was a modern invention. The dictionary tells me otherwise. The word was already being used in this way 150 years ago, though in a rather sneering tone, to judge by the handful of authors cited in the OED; they include Ralph Waldo Emerson, who wrote about "one of the celebrities of wealth and fashion" he'd met over here in 1847. The implication then, as it often still is now, was that being a celebrity might be all very well but there wasn't much merit in it.

This accords with the origin of the word. The Latin celeber meant "crowded". It was the opposite of desertus. All an aspiring celeb had to do was to fill the arena. A celebratio was a large assembly; the Elizabethans took over the Latin word and gave it a religious slant, because the occasion when large numbers of people were gathered together was mostly likely to be a marriage, or a service of Holy Communion, which is why the priest who does the business at the Eucharist is still called the celebrant.

Today the biggest assemblies are presided over by pop stars, so it makes etymological sense to call them celebrities, or pullers of crowds. But celebrate has lost its old connotation with large numbers. It can be done by as few as two people, unless they've forgotten the corkscrew.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
More From
nicholas bagnall
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, RSPSS, R, AI, CPLEX, SQL)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Law Costs

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - This is a very unusual law c...

Junior VB.NET Application Developer (ASP.NET, SQL, Graduate)

£28000 - £30000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior VB.NET ...

C# .NET Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, jQuery, XML, XLST)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Web De...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Ellen E Jones
Scientists have discovered the perfect cheese for pizzas (it's mozzarella)  

Life of pie: Hard cheese for academics

Simmy Richman
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution