Words: Celebrity

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 "The celebrated lawyer" sounds outdated and wrong.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

Recruitment Genius: SAGE Bookkeeper & PA to Directors

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Executive

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An On-line Sales & Customer Ser...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - Fixed Term Contract - 6 Months

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the largest hospitality companies...

Recruitment Genius: Electricians - Fixed Wire Testing

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a result of significant cont...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Neo-Nazis march in London  

I'm taking my Jewish kids to a vile neo-Nazi rally in London this weekend because I want them to learn about free speech

Richard Ferrer
A police officer carries a casualty to safety  

Tunisia attack proves that we cannot stop terrorists carrying out operations against Britons in Muslim countries

Robert Verkaik
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map