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Grammar

Why Do We Refer to‘15 Minutes of Fame’?

Whenever an unknown, a so-called ‘Regular Joe,’ becomes (temporarily) famous, we’ll refer to them having their 15 minutes of fame.

Nearly everyone thinks they know where the phrase “15 minutes of fame” originated. But when you read the backstory, you realize the official story may be a bit different.

A recent editorial claimed Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Roarke’s 15 minutes of fame is over. I suppose we’ll know for sure whether that’s true in the coming months.

The phrase appears whenever we discuss someone who achieves a temporary period in the spotlight. Some of the people who do receive the short-lived attention still receive, by some estimations, too much of it.

But where did the popular phrase come from?

The most popular story blames world-famous artist Andy Warhol. In fact, if you ask most people who came up with the phrase, he’s the name you’ll likely hear over and over again.

But as the story goes, he didn’t invent the phrase by himself. In fact, it came into our language with an assist from a photographer.

Specifically, history credited Warhol as having said, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” But Smithsonian Magazine suggests he likely didn’t actually say that. In fact, it could have been a famous European curator, a painter or a photographer who actually helped create the famous phrase.

The most common non-Warhol theory involves the photographer, Nat Finkelstein.

Finkelstein says he was photographing Warhol for a proposed book. As they worked, they noticed a crowd trying to get into the pictures. As the story goes, Warhol quipped that everyone wants to be famous.

Finkelstein allegedly replied, “Yeah, for about fifteen minutes, Andy.”

Given the fleeting, sometimes cruel nature of fame, I suspect 15 minutes would be more than enough for the more rational among us.

Regardless of who should be blamed for creating the phrase, it will likely always be associated with Warhol one way or another.

Would you want to be famous? Even if it were only for 15 minutes?

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 28 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.