The “Notorious” Nabokovian RBG

The “Notorious” Nabokovian RBG

I was pleased to read in today’s (September 20, 2020) New York Times these words from Ruth Bader Ginsburg: “At Cornell University, my professor of European literature, Vladimir Nabokov, changed the way I read and I write. Choosing the right word, and the right word order, he illustrated, could make an enormous difference in conveying an image or an idea”. Well said, I thought, especially noting the feminist cloud currently hanging over Nabokov (what with Lolita and all). But this thought was quickly replaced by puzzlement over the word “notorious”: is that really the word we want for this distinguished Supreme Court justice? According to the OED, it means “famous for some bad quality or deed”. Appropriate for a rapper, perhaps, but not for Justice Ginsburg—any more than the word “infamous”. Has someone confused “notorious” with “notable” or “noteworthy” (with a touch of “victorious”)? In any case, the moniker is ill chosen. To my mind RBG proves a maxim I have long espoused, namely that courage and intelligence are inversely correlated with physical size. I find her notable and noteworthy—as well as large in the best sense.

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