In honor of Pearl Harbor Day, I thought I'd ponder this word a bit. As an American, the word 'infamy' automatically links to 'Day of Infamy', meaning Pearl Harbor Day. It was a Sunday, perhaps much like this one, when the Japanese led the surprise attack on the Hawaiian naval base that launched us into our participation in WWII. I've posted a comment about meeting some of the survivors of that day today here: Pearl Harbor Day Breakfast.
But what is infamy, exactly? How do I translate it in the above phrase? I guess in a very rough way, I take it to mean a day that will go down in history in a really, really bad way. Maybe that's close enough, but maybe it isn't. In the U.S., there are no other 'days of infamy', though I suppose 9/11 might end up being called something very like it. I'm curious, in any case, what this word really means, as opposed to my assumption.
Infamy is, according to the Free Dictionary, a state. It's a condition of dishonor, of shame, of being held in contempt. FDR's exact phrase is "a date which will live in infamy." Oddly, though, this conveys a sense of him being a reader, and a classics reader at that. Because when you look at the citations, it seems to be a word that, unless it is being pulled out of the attic to heap scorn on someone, has already largely passed out of the language. The sources cited are quotes from Anne Bronte, Henry Fielding and other pre 20th century British literary giants. This might just be the Free Dictionary's data base. But I don't think so. I think the reason we think of the Day or should I say Date of Infamy so easily is that there are not a whole lot of other examples that spring to mind of the word being used in our common social context. Yet surely there have been many other infamous days since then.
And our position hasn't always been that of the innocent one. Unfortunately.
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