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 "The celebrated lawyer" sounds outdated and wrong.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

Austen Lloyd: Employment Solicitor

£30000 - £60000 per annum + Excellent: Austen Lloyd: Employment Solicitor - Ke...

Argyll Scott International: Risk Assurance Manager

Negotiable: Argyll Scott International: Hi All, I'm currently recruiting for t...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: HAMPSHIRE MARKET TOWN - A highly attr...

Ashdown Group: IT Systems Analyst / Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

£23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Bill Cosby speaks onstage at the Thurgood Marshall College Fund 25th Awards Gala on 11 November 2013 in Washington  

Bill Cosby: Isn’t it obvious why his accusers have stayed silent up until now?

Grace Dent
 

Our political landscape is not changing anywhere near as much as we assume it is

Steve Richards
In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

The young are the new poor

Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

Greens on the march

‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

Through the stories of his accusers
Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

The Meaning of Mongol

Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible