According to Jesse Sheidlower, American editor of the “OED”, the New York Times’s usage of “iconic” has increased from 11 instances in 1988 to 141 in 1998 to 442 in 2008.

Given the collective appetite for idolatry, it is apt that “iconic” should be the adjective of the age. For although “icon” derives from a Greek word signifying no more than a likeness, a portrait or an image, it has for centuries been indissolubly linked to Christian images of Jesus, Mary, the agony, the deposition and so on.

Condition A of the truly iconic. It affects us whether we like it or not….
Condition B is that the image transcends its subject….
Condition C is that the subject should be legible in a sort of visual shorthand….
Condition D is immediacy of recognition….

If a catchphrase is a repetitive soundbite, then an icon is a strenuously rehearsed sightbite….

The people and things that observe these conditions are few, far fewer than the prevalence of the word “iconic” would have us believe….

More typically, virtual villages will increasingly make icons of figures that are peculiar to them, just as real villages did in the distant past when the people in the next valley paid obeisance to an alien gamut of gods and totems. The more the media grow, the less appropriate the prefix “mass”.

Jonathan Meades, in Intelligent Life

and on nothing

Shakespeare, too, made much merry play with the word “nothing”, and not only in “Much Ado”. Whether or not something may come of nothing is a recurring theme in “King Lear”, and there is a particularly convoluted verbal joust between Hamlet and Ophelia—some of which escapes contemporary readers unaware that in Elizabethan slang “nothing” can mean “vagina”. One verbally agile philosopher remarked in an encyclopedia entry that it is perhaps not Nothing that has been worrying existentialists, but they who have been worrying it.

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