Social Question

mattbrowne's avatar

When Americans use the term 'world famous' what exactly does this mean?

Asked by mattbrowne (31557points) January 22nd, 2012

I’m reading a great book called ‘Fish!’ and it mentions the world famous ‘Pike Place Fish Market’. I’ve never heard of it and am wondering why this is so. I checked the Wikipedia article

and was surprised that the language list on the left side is empty. If you go to

for example, you will get links to articles in العربية, Беларуская, Bosanski, Български, Česky, Cymraeg, Dansk, Deutsch, Espagnol, Esperanto, Euskara, فارسی, Føroyskt, Français, Frysk, Galego, 한국어, Հայերեն, हिन्दी, Hrvatski, Bahasa Indonesia, Íslenska, Italiano, עברית, ქართული, Kernowek, Kiswahili, Latviešu, Lietuvių, Magyar, Македонски, मराठी, Bahasa Melayu, Nederlands, 本語, ‪Norsk, پنجابی, Papiamentu, Polski, Português, Română, Русский, Shqip, Slovenčina, Српски, Srpski, Srpskohrvatski, Suomi, Svenska, தமிழ், తెలుగు, ไทย, Türkçe, Українська, Tiếng Việt and 中文.

So, what’s going on here?

What criteria can we use to label something as being “world famous”?

How do Americans interpret the term?

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20 Answers

jrpowell's avatar

I interpret the term as meaning as one of the must see places if you visit a city/country. In Seattle Pike Place and the Space Needle are the two must visit places. Same as The Empire State building in NYC and the Eiffel Tower in Paris or the Opera house in Sydney.

And Pike Place is really awesome.

mattbrowne's avatar

@johnpowell – Washington state is one of the few states I’ve never visited. So I will definitely keep Pike Place in mind when I get the chance to visit Seattle. But can the place really be compared with the Empire State Building and the Eiffel Tower in terms of being world famous?

ragingloli's avatar

They also call their baseball tournament “world series”, despite the fact that only the US and Canada participate in it.
I think the word for that is ‘Hubris’.

janbb's avatar

“How do Americans interpret the term?”


jrpowell's avatar

@mattbrowne :: I wouldn’t buy a postcard of Pike Place like I would the Space Needle. It just has a wonderful smell and awesome energy that is hard to describe. But if you only had six hours in Seattle I would recommend going.

zenvelo's avatar

American’s use “World Famous if they think one person from a far away land is aware of its existence. Some other world famous things:

Nathans Hot Dogs (only available in New York until a few years ago, now in American grocery stores).
Tommy’s chili-cheeseburgers (only in the Los Angeles Basin. They are very very good, but most people outside of LA haven’t heard of them.)
Santa Cruz’s World Famous Mystery Spot. Not quite the 8th wonder of the natural world.

rebbel's avatar

It could also be a tool for advertising.
If you state, again and again, that the town hall in your residence is famous around the world, in the end a lot of people will not know other then that it is world famous.
And some visitors from other parts of the country, and other parts of the world, that visit said city and its world famous town hall, will read the recommendations in touristic brochures and think “Wow, we should really visit this remarkable landmark!”.
I was always made believe that our Delft Blue Pottery was famous around the world.
Untill I asked people from other countries that I met if they had ever heard of our famous pottery.
Only about one in twenty did so.

bkcunningham's avatar

In the case of the World Famous Pike Place Fish Market, it is simply part of their name.

marinelife's avatar

@mattbrowne I lived in Seattle for many years. I’m afraid that using “world famous” with regard to the Pike Place Market is hyperbole (although it does get tourists and visitors from all over the world). It is a Farmer’s market and flea market.

Earthgirl's avatar

Zenvolo is right. It’s about advertising and it was a very popular term at one time. Sometimes now it can be used almost as a tongue in cheek, sort of vintage terminology. No one has to actually believe the thing or place is actually “world famous”. It is another way of saying something is damn good!
It reminded me of a little joke from one of my children’s books. I couldn’t remember the exact joke but the original joke was set in America and it may have been about pickles or hot dogs. This one is set in Italy but it has the same humor behind it.

“Three violin manufactures have all done business for years on the same block in the small town of Cremona, Italy. After years of a peaceful co-existence, the Amati shop decided to put a sign in the window saying: “We make the best violins in Italy.”
The Guarneri shop soon followed suit, and put a sign in their window proclaiming: “We make the best violins in the world.”

Finally, the Stradivarius family put a sign out at their shop saying: “We make the best violins on the block.”

Blackberry's avatar

It’s to make them sound important, since America is the greatest country in the world (it’s not). This is why we call national championships “World” championships.

Sunny2's avatar

It is hyperbole, but once what-ever-it-is has a footing in another country than its origin, it can become “world” something. Famous is in the eye or words of the beholder. My chorale has sung in at least a dozen different countries, so we could say we’re of “world renown”, but we don’t. Get real.

linguaphile's avatar

Wait! It’s known of all over the world! (cue rousing music…) Fluther is “World Famous!!”

Keep_on_running's avatar

Most of the time it is just a corny line used to spruik whatever is being sold. False advertising? Probably.

ratboy's avatar

“World famous x” = “x that I know of.”

YARNLADY's avatar

When used for promotional purposes, it doesn’t exactly mean anything. It probably means someone from another country once came in.

I have discovered that star ratings for hotels and restaurants have no standard meaning either, and speaking of the word standard, it also has no specific meaning when renting items, such as a standard size, which can be any size at all.

rebbel's avatar

Good point, @YARNLADY.

mattbrowne's avatar

Thanks for sharing your views!

Gabby101's avatar

@YARNLADY has it. It’s just to make people think something is well known and worth visiting. I would say though that anyone who has visited Seattle or looked into it, would be familiar with Pike Place and Seattle gets plenty of international visitors (I was there last Spring and met some of them).

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